MSc opportunities

Journal Club

Dep. of Biology

Bjerknes Centre

Bergen Museum

Unifob Global


Oregon and Northern California


As part of their long-term studies on the alpine flora of western North America, John and Hilary Birks visited Oregon and northern California in July 2003 and they led an Alpine Garden Society expedition there in July 2004. This website is based on these two visits. It is designed to illustrate the botanical highlights of some of the mountain areas visited in southern and central Oregon and northern California.

Plant Identification

Identification of plants in Oregon and northern California is a slightly frustrating business as Peck’s (1961) A Manual of the Higher Plants in Oregon is now out-of-date both in terms of its taxonomy and its nomenclature. Hitchcock and Cronquist’s (1990) up-to-date Flora of the Pacific Northwest does not cover all of the area we visited. The Jepson Manual (Hickman 1993) of the higher plants of California is massive (1400 pages) as it covers the flora of the whole of California. It is relatively difficult to use for some genera (e.g. Eriogonum, Mimulus) because of the huge number of species in the keys for particular genera, when, in reality, there may be only a few relevant species in the area of northern California we visited. The Jepson Manual includes many, but not all, species known from Oregon. It is, however, the most up-to-date and critical taxonomic treatment available for some of the areas we visited. Fortunately there are some useful and excellent ‘local’ floras or check-lists for some of the areas we visited, for example Steens Mountain (Mansfield 2000), Cone Peak (Ross and Chambers 1988), Three Sisters region (Ireland 1968), Crater Lake (Zika 2003), parts of northern California (Ferlatte 1974), and Fairview Peak (Baker 1951). In addition Loren Russell, Tanja Harvey, Dave and Jan Dobak, John Grimshaw, Jim Duncan, and Phyllis Gustafson kindly provided details and species lists for particular localities. For particularly complex genera we consulted Barneby (1989; Astragalus, Lupinus), Cronquist et al. (1984; Castilleja, Penstemon), Strickler (1997; Penstemon), Flora of North America (1997; Anemone, Ranunculus), and the Oregon Flora website (www.oregonflora.org; Arenaria, Erigeron, Dodecatheon, Pyrola, Delphinium, Gayophytum, Arctostaphylos, Calyptridium).

The taxonomy and nomenclature we have followed in the Species List that can be downloaded here follows, as far as possible, The Jepson Manual, Mansfield (2000), and the Oregon Flora website.

Oregon and Northern California

The mountain areas of Oregon can be divided into six major vegetation—landform—climate units (Wuerthner 1987), namely the Blue Mountains and the Wallowa Mountains of the north-east, the Coast Range of the extreme west, the Western or Old Cascade Range running from Mount Hood to Prospect, the High or New Cascades running from Barlow Pass to Mount Shasta and Lassen Peak in northern California, the Basin and Range area of south-east Oregon, and the Siskiyou Mountains west of Ashland extending to Mount Eddy, Castle Lake, and Stewart Springs in northern California. We visited the Western Cascades (Fairview Peak and Bohemia Mountain, Cone Peak and Iron Mountain, Tokatee Falls), the High Cascades (Crater Lake, Newberry Volcanics, Three Fingered Jack, and Three Sisters), the Basin and Range (Steens Mountain), and the Siskiyou Mountains (Mount Ashland, Castle Lake, Stewart Springs, Mount Eddy).

Excellent and very readable accounts of the fascinating geological history and landscape development are provided by Harris (1988) and Bishop (2003). Wuerthner (1987) gives good general accounts of each of the Oregon mountain ranges including their geology, land-use, ecology, and management. The Atlas of Oregon (Loy 2001) is the definitive reference work for all aspects of Oregon’s human geography, economy, land-use, physical geography, climate, and vegetation. Detailed accounts of the landscapes, land-use, and history of western Oregon and eastern Oregon are given by McPhee (1987) and St. John (1988), respectively. Excellent accounts of the various hikes we made are given by Sullivan (1999, 2002a, 2002b).

Species List

This is the list of all the plants seen and recorded. All plants are listed by locality visited. The plants are grouped as Pteridophytes, Gymnosperms, Monocotyledons, and Dicotyledon plant families. Visits to the Newberry Volcanics (Dome, Paulina Peak, Lava Cone, and roadsides) have been grouped together. The dates in July 2004 of the visits are given for each column. Some short diagnostic notes about each species are also given.

The list can be downloaded as a PDF file.


All photographs are the copyright of John and Hilary Birks. They were taken using Kodachrome 200 film.

Six of the nineteen Penstemon species seen

Six species of Calochortus seen

Western Cascades

The areas visited in the Western Cascades were:

Fairview Peak (5933’) and Bohemia Mountain (5987’) with stops in forest openings at 5000’.

Plants of particular note included Rhododendron macrophyllum, Penstemon cardwellii, P. rupicola, Lilium washingtonianum, Dicentra formosa, Gilia capitata, Linanthastrum nuttallii, Ipomopsis aggregata, Calochortus subalpinus, Xerophyllum tenax, Saxifraga bronchialis ssp. vespertina, Silene campanulatus, and Lilium columbianium (roadside stop at 1520’). A total of 151 species was noted.

Cone Peak and Iron Mountain (4130'-5100'). 2 July 2004

Besides the wonderful woodland flora with Anemone deltoidea, Cornus canadensis, Asarum caudatum, Clintonia uniflora, Smilacina racemosa, S. stellata, and Oplopanax horridum, the highlight was the fantastic flower-rich and colourful dry grasslands above the forest, with masses of Castilleja hispida, C. miniata, Calochortus subalpinus, Delphinium menziesii, Sedum oregoneum, S. divergens, Eriogonum compositum, E. umbellatum, and Allium crenulatum. A total of 153 species was recorded.

Tokatee Falls 2350’ (90 feet high). 7 July 2004.

This provided us with a glimpse of Western Cascades ‘old-growth’ forest of Abies lasiocarpa, Pseudotsuga menziesii, Thuja plicata, T. mertensiana, and T. heterophylla, with a sparse but interesting field-layer of Monotropa uniflora, Allotropa virgata, and Pterospora andromedea (all saprophytic or parasitic), and the massive Petasites frigidus var. palmatus and Polystichum munitum. Thirty four species were recorded.

High Cascades

The areas visited in this range were:

Crater Lake 6176’. 6-7 July 2004.

Although not rich in species, the areas we visited had spectacular shows of several elegant species such as Phlox diffusa, Penstemon davidsonii var. davidsonii, P. davidsonii x P. rupicola hybrids, Anemone occidentalis, and Claytonia lanceolata. The views hopefully compensated for the rather low species list (70 species).

Newberry Volcanics 6300-7984’. 3 July and 13 July 2004.

We visited The Dome, Paulina Peak, Lava Cone, and some roadsides in this area. The Dome (7015’) was most remarkable as it looked to be almost barren white pumice. On closer examination it revealed a rich and varied flora including Castilleja chromosa, the Oregon endemic grape-fern Bortrychium pumicola, Hulsea nana, Penstemon speciosus, Ipomopsis congesta var. montana, Lesquerella occidentalis, and Lupinus lepidus var. lobbii. The roadsides were spectacular with masses of the purple Mimulus cusickii and the smaller M. nanus. A total of 60 species was seen at Newberry.

Jack Lake (5130’) - Viewpoint Saddle (6500’), Three Fingered Jack. 14 July 2004.

This day will be remembered for the spectacularly steep moraine slopes below the Cirque Lake under Three Fingered Jack. Our efforts were rewarded with many Cascade ‘specials’ including Silene suksdorfii, Luetkea pectinata, Phyllodoce empetriformis, Elmera racemosa, Cassiope mertensiana, Claytonia megarrhiza, Saxifraga tolmei, S. bronchialis ssp. vespertina, Penstemon rupicola, P. davidsonii, and hybrids, Cardamine bellidifolia var. pachyphylla, and Phacelia hastata var. compacta. A total of 140 species was recorded.

Basin and Range

Steens Mountain 6500—9680’. 4 and 5 July 2004.

This remarkable uplifted and tilted mountain fault-block has long been famous for its diverse and phytogeographically varied flora with a mixture of Rocky Mountains, Intermountain, and Cascade floras. We saw a total of 158 species there, with visits to Fish Lake (7310’), Honeymoon Lake (7800’), Kiger Viewpoint (8720’), East Rim (9530’), Steens summit (9680’), and the prairie below Fish Lake (6500’). There were so many botanical highlights that no two people would agree on their particular highlights! Ours included Dugaldia hoopesii, Calochortus macrocarpus, Eriogonum ovalifolium, E. caespitosum, Lewisia nevadensis, Draba cusickii var. cusickii (endemic), Cirsium peckii (not because it is a thistle but because it is endemic!), Ranunculus eschscholtzii, Penstemon davidsonii var. praeteritus (near endemic), Castilleja pilosa var. steenensis (endemic), the masses of Allium acuminatum and Penstemon rydbergii var. rydbergii at or near Honeymoon Lake, Erigeron compositus, Polemonium viscosum, Astragalus whitneyi var. confusus, Camissonia tanacetifolia, and C. subacaulis.

Some of the interesting plants seen on Steens Mountain

Siskiyou Mountains

Four areas were visited in this geologically and topographically complex area:

Mount Ashland, Oregon 6400-7210’. 9 July 2004.

Here we were guided by Jim Duncan, Phyllis Gustafson, and Dave and Jan Dobak and were joined by several NARGS members. This was the richest day botanically with 160 species seen in a wide range of habitats such as wet meadows, dry grasslands, summit areas, and wet slopes. The list of highlights is long, but particular highlights include Lewisia cotyledon, Iris chrysophylla, Calchortus elegans, massive Adiantum pedatum var. aleuticum, Erythronium grandiflorum, Triteleia crocea var. crocea, Castilleja applegatei, Calyptridium umbellatum (in vast abundance), C. monospermum, Polemonium californicum, Eriogonum diclinum, Lupinus aridus var. ashlandensis, L. breweri, Boschniakia strobilacea, Xerophyllum tenax, and Lilium pardalinum ssp. wigginsii.

On our way from Ashland to Mount Shasta we stopped and saw Calochortus greenei near Interstate 5 (10 July 2004).

A few of the interesting plants seen on Mount Ashland

Stewart Springs Road—Mount Eddy Viewpoint, California (5500-6530’) 10 July 2004.

We mainly concentrated on the remarkable flushes dominated by Darlingtonia californica associated with serpentine rocks in the Siskiyous. Besides masses of Darlingtonia, other highlights there include Lilium pardalinum ssp. vollmeri, Calochortus nudus, Mimulus primuloides, Rhododendron occidentale, Sisyrinchium californicum, and Calystegia malacophylla. The Mount Eddy Viewpoint (6530’) will long be remembered for the spectacular shows of Astragalus whitneyi var. siskiyouensis in full, massive fruit. A total of 101 species were seen. John Grimshaw kindly showed us Cypripedium californicum (5050’) on 12 July 2004 on our way to Mount Eddy.

Castle Lake, California 5440-6040’ (Heart Lake), 11 July 2004.

This well-known botanical locality (it was a favourite haunt of the late Wayne Roderick and John and Hilary visited Castle Lake with him and the AGS on 23 June 1995) is extremely rich with 130 species noted on our 2004 visit. Besides wonderful shows of Triteleia crocea var. modesta, T. hyacintha, Lewisia leana, and Calochortus tolmiei, the highlights were Campanula shetleri in fine flower on the crags above Little Castle Lake, Penstemon newberryi var. berryi and var. newberryi, Lilium pardalinum ssp. shastense and ssp. pitkinense, Erythronium klamathense, and the abundance of Calyptridium monospermum.

Mount Eddy, California 6440-9025’. 12 July 2004.

We climbed Mount Eddy via Deadfall Lakes and we saw 140 species that day. Most of the botanical interest was from Upper Deadfall Lake (7790’) to the col of the ridge (8020’) and along the ridge to the summit (9025’). The yellow lupin Lupinus croceus and an abundance of Darlingtonia californica brightened the long walk though the forest up to the Deadfall Lakes. Upper Deadfall Lake had wonderful Dodecantheon alpinum and some D. jeffreyi, along with Pinus balfouriana. Rock outcrops and open gravel and screes from the col to the summit were very rewarding with Lesquerella occidentalis, Calyptridium monospermum, Eriogonum diclinum, E. alpinum, E. ovalifolium, E. siskiyouense, Campanula scabrella, Sedum laxum, Allium falcifolium, Castilleja nana, Lupinus lepidus var. sellulus, Epilobium siskiyouense, Senecio canus, Erigeron compositus, Lewisia leana, Phacelia corymbosa, Silene douglasii, dwarf prostrate Potentilla fruticosa, dense patches of a dwarf form of Penstemon procerus var. formosus, and fine patches of Penstemon newberryi var. newberryi. Hidden amongst rocks below the summit was Polemonium chartaceum, unfortunately past its best in terms of flowering. The views of Mount Shasta from the summit of Eddy were stunning.

Some of the interesting plants seen in Northern California

Some of the more unusual or striking plants seen

Three species of Lilium including four of the 'subspecies' of L. pardalinum

Oregon Alpine-Plant Gardens

On 8 July 2004 the AGS group was invited by Phyllis Gustafson to visit three contrasting rock gardens in the Medford area. We visited Phyllis’ Czech-style crevice gardens, Ruby Read’s garden of troughs (at least 42!), and Kathy Allen’s extensive rock garden and nursery that were shown on the front of the Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery Catalogue for 2004. These visits were a wonderful break from plant hunting and everyone was impressed by these three very different gardens. They were all superb.

The Czech-crevice type garden of Phyllis Gustafson

The garden troughs of Ruby Read

The extensive rockery and nursery of Kathy Allen

The Oregon Plant Atlas Project

The Oregon Plant Atlas is one aspect of the Oregon Flora Project and was started in 1995 with the aim of producing maps of plant distribution within Oregon (http://www.oregonflora.org/atlas.php).