Oregon Magazine   Traveling the West?  Stay at  Shilo Inns

Beauty on the Backroads
by Doug Tankersley

Some flowers, like the Fairyslipper, are so delicate that to pick them is to kill them.  Others, tough and resilient, like the Fireweed, seem to thrive in the chaos of a clearcut or aftermath of a forest fire.  Oregon is a wonderland of flowers that are just waiting to be discovered in their forest and meadow sanctuaries.  Fairyslipper
Orchid, Tiger and Fawn Lilies, Wake-Robin, and Fairy Lantern are examples of some of the exotic sounding, yet common kinds.

Get some good maps, throw some sandwiches and pop in a cooler, fill the car up with gas and you have the makings for a great drive over Oregon’s logging roads.  Many of these access roads are well graveled and smooth enough to accommodate the most basic of transportation.  The best 
time to view wildflowers is from mid-March till the end of June.  There are species of wildflowers blooming past September, though not as profusely.

Fairyslipper  Calypso bulbosa

This orchid, like all species of wild orchid is protected. It is one of several that have a root system so sensitive, any disturbance of those roots kills the entire plant. Thus, simply plucking the scented flower dooms the entire plant. This is definitely a plant that should be left alone, and never picked.  This plant, while not officially endangered, is being exterminated in some areas, due mainly to unscrupulous collectors. 

Bloom Time:  Varies depending on weather, mid-March through mid-April.  Early warm weather brings early bloom.

Where to look:  Evergreen forest floors that have a heavy layer of “duff” or leaf mold. Well rotted logs and stumps are often good places to look as well.

Trillium or Wake-Robin   Trillium ovatum

One of the most common and easily spotted of the wildflowers is the trillium.  Like the robin, its arrival signals the start of spring.  These plants can sometimes be found at commercial nurseries, especially those specializing in native plants.  Leach Botanical Gardens has a native plant sale annually, where they can be purchased.  This native does well in the landscape.

Bloom Time:  Again, seasons differ, but April to mid-May is typical.

Where to look:  Open conifer forests and transition areas next to clearcuts.

Fireweed   Epilobium angustifolium

Fireweed derives its name from the conditions it thrives in.  It commonly starts showing up in forest fire, road construction, and clear cut areas 3-5 years after the fact.  Blooms are clustered around a central spike, often 20 or more blossoms at once.  Beautiful as it is, it is difficult to think of planting this into one’s garden.  It is entirely too prolific and has the potential for 
spreading out of control.  Honey from Fireweed is sought out by some fine restaurants as a specialty product.

Bloom Time:  Late spring through summer. 

Where to look  Any sunny location where the soil has remained in a disturbed condition for  a long period, i.e., roadsides, construction sites, 
clear cuts, and forest fires. 

Tiger Lily   Lilium columbianum

Always dramatic are the multiple bright orange blooms of the Tiger Lily against a meadow of green grass.  This plant is sometimes available from local nurseries.  If seeking the true native and not a lookalike, make sure you specify Lilium columbianum, not just Tiger Lily, as there are a number of other species that go by the same common name. 

Bloom Time: Typically late May and June

Where to look:  Transition areas between meadow and forest, grassy roadsides . Open forest areas with ample sunlight.

Fairy Lantern   Disporum smithii

Tucked into the niche of a rock, I found a grouping of these elegant Fairy Lanterns.  It is often a good idea to get out of the car and walk along the road, instead of just driving. I would not have found these  had I not parked and started foraging on foot.  This plant is sometimes confused with Hooker’s Fairybells, Disporum hookerii.

Bloom Time:  May-June

Where to look:  Moist, semi-shady areas.  Seepages, small permanent creeks, any place the ground stays moist year round, has some shade, and is well vegetated is a good place to start looking. 

White Fawn Lily   Erythronium oregonum

The brightness of the flower somehow seems to blend with its surroundings. In spite of the camouflage, they can be found growing beside the road. There are several closely related  Erythroniums of which only two, E. oreganum and E. revolutum, have the distinctive mottling on the leaves.  E. oreganum is probably the more prevalent of the two species in Western Oregon.

Bloom Time: Mid April to mid May

Where to look: Prefers areas that have at least a little shade, well drained hills and roadsides just outside disturbed areas.

Carrying a field identification guide with you while looking for wildflowers is helpful in identification.  An excellent resource I have found is the book, Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon.  The book only officially covers as far south as Eugene, Oregon.  However, most of it is applicable to the entire Oregon coast. 

With little more than the family car, curiosity, and an interest in beauty, you can gain access to the plants mentioned here.  If you are able to get out of the car and walk a few hundred yards, you will find many more.  Of course these forests and meadows have far more to offer than wildflowers.  Whether you are looking for rare and endangered plants or just getting
out to enjoy Oregon’s outdoor beauty, a trip to our forests can be a rewarding and educational time. 

Some interesting Oregon wildflower links:

Celebrating Wildflowers  A Catalog of Illustrations  Artwork of much of the flora of Eastern Oregon, by Karl Urban.  This man’s work deserves a lot more attention.

Flora Northwest  Gives a list of plants currently blooming in different regions of the state. Hosted by Gresham High School this is an excellent educational site.

Native Plant Society of Oregon   Explore this site and find opportunities to learn with others.  A free email service is available that informs subscribers about upcoming field trips.  Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery  Large selection of native and rare plants. mail-order catalog and service available

Photos and text © 2002 Doug Tankersley