Last week I went to the Metolius Preserve on a short hike with the Deschutes Land Trust (DLT). This 1,240 acre preserve is located about ten miles west of Sisters, OR and was acquired by the DLT in 2003.
Ponderosa pine trees dominate the landscape but there are also Douglas fir, grand fir, incense cedar, and western larch trees. The pine trees near the kiosk are spaced about 30-40 feet apart and bunchgrass forms the dominant ground cover. Though the habitat appears natural, the forest has been restored with the help of Pacific Stewardship. The forest has been thinned and prescribed burns have been planned to foster an old-growth type of habitat. They have even created snags so that some of the 13 types of woodpeckers that live here find a good place to feed and nest. Bunchgrass has also been planted.
October is a great month to visit the area because the vine maple trees are in full color and the western larch is turning its distinctive golden-yellow color. Western larch, aka tamarack, is an unusual type of conifer tree because they drop their needles in the winter. This region is at the southwestern edge of the larch’s range.
We learned that grand fir competes with western larch in this area so DLT has taken steps to manage it. They host a Christmas tree-cutting event in December where visitors are encouraged to cut grand fir so that the larch can flourish.
One of the first things our guide, David Miller, pointed out to us was lichen. Lichens are a partnership between a fungus and an alga and/or cyanobacteria. The lichen we were looking at is called Brown-eyed sunshine. Isn’t that a great common name?
We paused at a small lookout dock to look at Lake Creek and learn about some of the fish in this area. Redband trout are in this area and if they can manage to get all the way to the ocean and then come back, they are then known as steelhead. There are also bull trout here. Kokanee are a landlocked type of salmon and if they go out to sea and come back they are known as sockeye salmon. A lot of effort has gone into making sure some of the kokanee can make it back. They are trucked around two dams. It is hoped that Chinook salmon will one day be a major player here.
DLT employed the help of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council to improve the habitat for fish on the preserve. A road and culvert were removed. Plants were put in by the stream in the riparian zone. We looked at some of the plants near the creek including black hawthorn, mountain alder, ninebark, chokecherry, serviceberry, willow, mock orange, wax currant, Nootka rose, bald hip rose, bittersweet nightshade, and horsetail. We saw lots of bulrush in the streambed.
In drier areas nearby we saw vine maple, Oregon grape, green-leaf manzanita, chinquapin, snowberry, dwarf bilberry, bracken fern, Virginia strawberry, yarrow, trailing blackberry, and Peck’s penstemon. We saw a silky lupine and also a dwarf form of lupine. We saw some pearly everlasting flowers (another one of my favorite common names), round-leaf alumroot, flax, and salsify. There were few flowers left at this time of the year. Dried tarweed plants were on the trail that we walked on.
Here are a few tidbits I learned about some of these plants:
- Ponderosa pine trees don’t get reddish bark until they are around 80 years old.
- Snowberry has leaves with distinctly different shapes on the same branch.
- Serviceberry blooms at a time of year when little else is blooming so they were used in funeral services by early settlers.
- Wax currants have a fungal growth that may spread to conifer trees so for a while foresters tried to eradicate them.
- The bulrush plant was the one supposedly used to make a cradle for the infant Moses.
- Silky lupine plants have incredibly soft leaves that are covered with many “hairs”.
- Tarweed was applied by Native Americans to their skin as a way to disguise their scent when they were hunting. To me it REALLY smelled like marijuana at this time of year.