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For the Love of Lupine: A Naturalist Study

The other day, I was driving through one of our Oregon State Parks, and a sea of purple flowers caught my eye.  Lupines.  A towering field of the beauties in full bloom.  I made a mental note to stop back with a camera.

Lupines_Field of in Early Evening

Hanging out in a field of lupines is the perfect, peaceful end to a day.

Early that evening, I drove by a second time.  I couldn’t help myself.  I leapt out of the truck and headed straight for the field.  An hour later, I emerged.  Late for dinner and grinning from ear to ear.  In 60 minutes, I traveled no more than 10 feet and took 100 photos.  I had a million questions.  I have been scouring my wildflower guides and the internet since, and rather than less, I now have even more.  Although I know far more about the lupine than when I set off to study them, I find now that I feel like I know less than ever.  So goes the journey of discovery.

Below is the condensed version of what I found:

Lupine, the Plant

Flowers_In Bloom Side View

Lupine in bloom – a side view. These plants were about a head shorter than I – so up to 4 feet tall.

Flowers_In Bloom

The view from above of a lupine in full bloom.

Flowers_Early Side View

Another side view of lupine – this one is early in its blooming stage. You can see the upper flowers have not yet opened.

Flowers_Early

View from above of an early bloom.

 

Flower Arrangements

Flower Arrangement_Whorled

When I looked more closely at the flowers, I found that some of the flowers spiraled up the stem – like a string of DNA!

Flower Arrangement_Tiered (2)

However, on other plants, the flowers were arranged in a circle like a wagon wheel with tiers stacked upon one another. Are these two the same species?

 

A Closer Look at Flowers

Flower_Up Close

Here is a close-up of the lupine flower – the top part is called the “banner petal.” Note how curved it is! The lower petals are two and called “wings.” Tucked inside the wings are two more petals forming the “keel.”

Flower_Up Close Inside

Here is an inside peek into the lupine flower – I learned by watching the bees, that a light pressure on the top of the wings causes the keel of the flower to pop out. The two petals that make up the keel protect the inner workings of the flower. Inside are the male and female parts of the flower – including the pollen that the bees are after.

 

Leaves

Leaf

The leaf of a flower is an important part of identification! Unfortunately, it is this leaf that is throwing off my ID. This flower is the size of a “broadleaf lupine” (few other lupines are as tall!) – but the leaves do not seem particularly broad or as round as described. A mystery.

 

Seeds

Lupine_Seed

The lupine seed!

Lupine_Seed in Dried Flower

Here you can see the banner petal, wings, and keel surrounding the seed. It gives an idea of how it all unravels!

Lupine_About to Seed

Going backwards, here is a flower just before seeding.

Lupine_Flowers in Various Stages of Seeding

One plant will have flowers in various stages of seeding.

 

Bumble Bees

Bumble Bee

While I stood among the lupines, a soft buzz filled the air. Bumble bees were everywhere!

Bumble Bee_Giant Pollen Baskets

Check out the GIANT pollen baskets on this bee!  The bees store pollen on the tibia of their hind legs (the lower portion of the last set of three sets they have.)

Bumble Bee_Working on Flower

After pushing open the wing petals, the bee dives in with its hind legs to gather pollen.

Bumble Bee_Leaving Flower

Then the bee pushes off and heads to the next flower. From my observations, the bees tend to start low on the plant and then spiral their way up making frequent stops. Check out the keel petals still poking out from the wing petals!

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Wild for Wildflowers

Rangers have been hiking the Gorge on their work and free time and capturing fantastic shots of wildflowers.  

Here’s the first round from the “Crown Point of the East”:

Rowena Crest and Tom McCall Preserve

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Columbia Desert Parsley

Buttercup_TMC_April 5 2014

Buttercup

Glacier Lily2_TMC_April 5 2014

Glacier Lily

Gold Star_TMC_April 5 2014

Gold Star

Grass Widow_TMC_April 5 2014

Grass Widow

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Lupine with Water Droplets

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Prairie Star

Paintbrush2_TMC_April 5 2014

Paintbrush

NW Balsamroot2_TMC_April 5 2014

Northwest Balsamroot

Lance-leaf Spring Beauty2_TMC_April 5 2014

Lance-leaf Spring Beauty

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Shooting Star

Small-flowered Blue-eyed Mary_TMC_April 5 2014

Small-flowered Blue-eyed Mary

Upland Larkspur_TMC_April 5 2014

Upland Larkspur

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Yellow Bell

In the Footsteps of Explorers: Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area

A few days ago, I set out to explore Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area.  Literally less than 1 mile from my doorstep, I had yet to visit this seemingly benign park in the West Columbia Gorge Management Unit.  A parking lot, a restroom, a boat ramp, an interpretive nature trail . . . I was sure 45 minutes would suffice.

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An explorer’s view! A flooded Sandy River from Broughton’s Bluff, Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area, Oregon.

2 1/2 hours later, I emerged back in civilization muddy, sweating, hand tingling from a wrestling match with stinging nettle, and glowing from the aftermath of an unforeseen adventure.  I did not walk through the parking lot, did not use the restroom, visit the boat ramp, or wander the interpretive trail.  No, I discovered Broughton’s Bluff.

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Towering walls of basalt columnar joints make up this near-Portland climbing mecca.

Broughton’s Bluff is in Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area – it’s the cliff and ridge to the east.  It’s actually the geologic dividing line between the Willamette Valley to the west and the foothills of the Cascades to the east.  And it’s named after an explorer.  Nothing to do with the park’s namesakes of 1805, Lewis & Clark, but, rather, a British naval officer, Lt. William Robert Broughton who explored the Lower Columbia in 1792 and navigated up as far as the entrance to the Gorge –  “Broughton’s Bluff” – named after him in 1926.  (He was also the guy who and named Mt. Hood – for Lord Samuel Hood, another British naval officer.)

Although not well-advertised, you can get your own explorer on and visit Broughton’s namesake.  A steep, braiding, slippery trail winds you through mossy green boulders as you skirt around basalt walls until you can make a v-line for a ridge and scramble to the top.

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No walk in the park, the trail to Broughton’s Bluff is riddled with obstacles.

Be forewarned, this trail is not for the faint of heart (or the fear of height or the young of age).  It’s steep; drop-offs are severe and unforgiving; and the trail surface includes stairs, roots, and boulders the size of small cars – all of which are coated with moss and mud.  Falling would not be pretty.

If you’re wondering about the fitness level required, know that it is most used by rock climbers.  Rather than a day-hiking trail, Broughton’s Bluff is best known for its climbing routes sprinkled along the basalt cliffs – again, not for the faint of anything – climbing equipment and experience required here!

I came out relatively unscathed, but not without waxing my knee on a rock, scraping up mud with my butt, and bracing my hand on a stinging nettle plant – never done that?  It’s like shaking hands with a wasp.

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They’re b-a-a-a-c-k! Rufous hummingbirds are in our neighborhood! Love these little warriors.

Besides the adventure and the views, spring (and the fact that it was all warm, sunny, and windless!) also made this hike.  Five different wildflowers graced the trails – early blue violet carpeting the Sandy’s banks, Indian plum hanging along the trail, oaks toothwort just opening all nestled in the groundcover, chickweed hiding among the boulders, and then a surprise red-flowering currant bursting from behind a Douglas fir.

Red-flowering Currant_L&C4

Red-flowering currant – always pinker than you remembered!

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Oaks toothwort – one of the first wildflowers of the season!

Chickweed_L&C

Chickweed – easy to miss this tiny white flower!

Indian Plum_L&C2

Indian plum – a sure sign that spring is on its way!

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Early blue violet – a common wildflower, but unusual for me. I usually find wood violets, instead!

For those of us who love wildflowers, each sighting is like a reunion with an old friend – remembering names, followed by big hellos and so-good-to-see-yous, recalling the last time you met, and concluding with photos ops for Facebook.  Greeting the Townsend’s chipmunk and Rufous Hummingbird was no different.  A reminder that spring is on its way, and the forest is filled with familiar faces.

Next up?  Another trip to Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area.  This time to drop by Sandy’s edge, wander the interpretive nature trail, read up on Lewis and Clark’s 1805 visit, and check out the facilities.  And perhaps pay homage to the explorer Lt. William Robert Broughton with a quick jaunt up to the base of the basalt columns.

Signs of Spring

I know, the frigid blast from the east just passed, and it’s a little soon to be talking spring.

But, one of our rangers just spotted the first wildflower of the season at Rowena Crest, and the view was singing “spring!” from Vista House today.

rowenawildflower

Looks like a grass widow a.k.a. satin flower (Olsynium douglasii) to me! Rowena Crest, January 25, 2014.

Need a hand identifying Pacific Northwest Wildflowers? 

Here’s a cheat sheet for beginners:  Mountain Wildflowers: 57 Common Species

And a great website for reference:  http://www.pnwflowers.com/

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With the sun in the south and east this morning, a rainbow appeared in the mist to the north and west.

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Vista House. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

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Crown over the Crown.

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. . . And no one else around to see it all!