I saw many plants I’m familiar with on this tour. Some I knew the names of, others I was like, “Uh… what was your name again?” Fortunately, the plants were labeled or the person whose garden it was could tell you.
Here are some old friends.
Here are some new-to-me plants. As I add to our landscaping, I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting plants.
These honeysuckle blossoms are pretty but they are on an introduced plant that has been so successful it’s considered invasive in some parts of the country. These tall shrubs are growing along the Deschutes River and they produce a lot of berries later in the summer.
I noticed this crazy quilt of colors along the shores of Little Lava Lake in September. The sedges and rushes varied in their color and had interesting forms. It was almost as if they formed a single living organism.
Is this Mendel’s garden? I think the Gene Jeannie has been at work in my backyard. I planted one purple and white lupine and it has multiplied. Now I have a violet and purple one, two purple and white ones, a violet and white one, and an all white one.
There are certain members of the plant and animal world that I call successful invaders. Some are admired; others are reviled. A few are both liked and despised at the same time.
Where I live, the Western juniper, Juniperus occidentalis, fits into that last category. It is a native species but due to fire suppression and habitat destruction, it has spread like -excuse the reference- wildfire. Juniper has taken advantage of the situation and has significantly expanded its range. I have heard a lot about how much water it can suck out of the landscape – supposedly 30 gallons a day. Its root system taps downwards and outwards to effectively use the available water. Many people don’t like them for that reason and because at times they have a not-so-pleasant scent. I’ll always remember listening to a person that lives in the wealthy part of town saying that she eliminated all 18 junipers on her property as soon as she moved in. Eighteen trees.
However, juniper also has its good side. As it ages it epitomizes the image many people associate with the Wild West. I love to photograph them. The form of the tree generally changes from a pyramid-like shape to a twisted, sprawling irregular one. It can be covered by purplish berries (that are really cones) and these are used in gin production. Wildlife loves it for cover, nesting, and food. Its wood is bi-colored and long lasting.
Some animals do what they can to fit in so that you won’t notice they are invaders. I have a pair of European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, that nested on my property last spring. I don’t know many people that are fond of starlings. They are referred to as being ugly, dirty birds that many think should be destroyed. However, if you look at their breeding plumage closely it’s actually quite beautiful and iridescent. Anyway, back to my story…the pair on my property produced a brood of young and taught them how to sing and call. The weird thing is that they sound like the much more well-liked Western meadowlark – not starlings. There aren’t any meadowlarks close by but they do live many miles away to the east.
Some plants moved here from far away and have settled in throughout North America. The common mullein, Verbascum thapsus, is one of those successful invader plants. It is a member of the snapdragon family and bears long stalks of yellow flowers and produces a lot of seeds. Mullein can grow 5-10 feet high (!) Its large leaves have a thick whitish covering of soft “hair”. It is native to Europe and was introduced here in the mid-1700’s for use as a fish poison. Where I live it is considered a noxious weed whose presence should be controlled and monitored by landowners. It will grow in almost any open area and will push native plants out.
This plant has some interesting uses. As previously mentioned, it was used as a fish poison. It stuns the fish so that they float to the surface where they can be easily caught. A dye was made from the flowers and was used on hair and on cloth. It also has medicinal uses and has been used to treat chest colds, bronchitis, and asthma. Mullein was also used to treat bruises, rash, tumors, and other maladies. I learned in a high school plant ecology class that its soft leaves can be used as toilet paper in an emergency.
Mullein is easy to pull but I decided to leave a few in my yard. Why? The songbirds, which I do not feed, LOVE them.
There are other successful invaders that have become so successful that they have become a threat to the environment. Consider the white-tailed deer. White-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, have steadily moved westwards, northwards, and to the south in North and South America. There are more than there have ever been – even though hunters use much more sophisticated technology to hunt them. However, there are fewer people hunting them and their natural predators have been eliminated in parts of their range.
About 100 years ago, small scale agriculture pushed the deer off much of their range east of the Rockies. White-tailed deer were also overhunted in North America in the late 1800’s. Their population dropped precipitously from 24-33 million, down to only 350,000.
Rebounding with a vengeance
During the Industrial Age, farms were abandoned leaving behind a patchwork of habitats that was ideal for deer. Wildlife conservation adapted practices that created green space for populations to become established. Preserves for regulated hunting were set up. As a result, the population rebounded with a vengeance! The current population is estimated to be over 30 million and they are much more densely packed than in the distant past. That density has caused numerous problems.
I read an interesting article about white-tailed deer on Staten Island in New York City. The population on the 60-square mile island has increased from 24 to 793 in just six years. That’s a 3,304% increase! The deer cause traffic accidents, eat gardens, and pass on tick-borne illnesses but the far greater problem is that they are destroying habitat. The community can cull the animals with sharpshooters, have hunters take them, apply contraceptive vaccines, or use surgical sterilization. None of these options has been popular with the public so nothing is currently being done. When an animal is given the Disney treatment, in this case as the main star in the Bambi movie, it can become much more difficult to control.
Successful invader Velcro
Successful invaders have taken advantage of various situations. Consequently, they are firmly established in their new range. They velcroed themselves into their new homes and peeling them away will be a difficult, if not impossible, task.
In late October I visited the Indian Ford Preserve, which is located several miles northeast of Sisters, Oregon, with Deschutes Land Trust (DLT) leader Kelly Madden. This is the flagship property of the group and it was purchased in 1995. Preserves are purchased outright, donated, or are protected through easement agreements with the owners. This property is 63 acres in size and consists of meadow, forest, and stream habitat. Indian Ford Creek meanders through the property. It is on the border of land dominated by Ponderosa pine or Western juniper.
There is a wide variety of wildlife that uses the preserve. I could see sign of mule deer and saw a herd nearby on my drive there. It was a quiet day for bird life the day I was there but I heard California quail, Steller’s jay, and pygmy nuthatch and saw a song sparrow, bald eagle, and a fleeting glimpse of a warbler. I wasn’t there for long but can tell you that based on the bird checklist for the site and observing the edges of different kinds of habitats; it’s probably pretty active in the spring and summer. DLT is always looking for help in doing bird surveys on their preserves. If that interests you, go here.
I went on this walk to see fall foliage. I learned that warm fall days, cool nights, and no frost create the brightest foliage. Elevation, moisture, and genetics can also affect how the foliage looks. The golden leaves of quaking aspen fluttered on the west side of the creek but there was little other color on this trip. The drought has adversely affected plant growth and fall color.
Trees on the Preserve
I learned more about Western juniper from our guide. This slow growing, long-lived species can change its sex from year to year. They are sometimes hermaphroditic – or both sexes. When the trees are younger than ten years in age, they send down tap roots that are 51” long. At around the age of ten, the roots start expanding out laterally. The root system can be five times the height of the tree. They like to start to grow under sagebrush but they don’t do as well in shaded areas as they mature. They start maturing when they are around 25 years old and are full reproductive maturity by age 75. Their growth form is pointy and triangular until they are about 100 years old. At around 120 years of age, the tree splits and takes on a more open form.
I also learned some new facts about aspen. The main tree in a grove is called the “Grandma” tree while the rest are referred to as the nursery. The grandma has the darkest bark in an aspen stand. We learned that early settlers often left a blaze mark, otherwise known as an arborglyph, on the tree trunks.
I recently saw a sign at a local nursery that said, “Buy one aspen and get one free!” and it cracked me up. Knowing that they are clones and sprout up from one “Grandma” I wondered how many trees an unsuspecting customer might end up with.
Rehabilitating the site
DLT has rehabilitated the habitat on this preserve. Invasive and non-native plants have been pulled. Willow has been planted along the streambanks. Cattle and other livestock are fenced out of this piece of property. In the past as many as 30,000 cattle grazed in this region. As a result of the Deschutes Land Trusts’ habitat rehabilitation efforts, salmon have been observed in the creek for the first time since 1964.
Native Americans regularly camped in this area and forded the creek here. The Northern Paiute and Molalla tribes lived in this area. It has been used for over 10,000 years. From here they may have gone on excursions to collect obsidian near Paulina Lake, collect food at Abert Lake, or trade with other tribes. One of the things local tribes here created were ornately decorated gloves. They were much sought after. The gloves were made all the way up until the 1920’s.
Some tribal members went up to the 10,358 foot peak of South Sister on vision quests. It is thought that Native Americans went up there to mourn a death in the family, to celebrate the start of puberty, or to deal with a stressful time in their lives. They made rock piles and likely did not eat or drink and exercised to the point of exhaustion. The 5-6 foot high rock stacks were discovered on the summit by explorer Adolph Dekum in 1883.
Explorers, trappers, & settlers
Explorers, trappers, and settlers started coming to this area in the 1800’s. In 1825, Peter Skene Ogden, of the Hudson’s Bay Company, camped nearby at Whychus Creek and let his horses graze in the meadows of Indian Ford. John C. Fremont explored areas near here in December of 1843. A military camp was established at Camp Polk in September of 1865 to protect resident miners and settlers. It was only used until May of 1866 and there were never any wars with local tribes.
After the military camp was abandoned, Samuel Hindman and his family moved into the area and had a post office and store. In 1888, the post office was moved into present day Sisters. The name of the town was changed from Camp Polk to Sisters after the nearby mountain peaks. The town was located along the Santiam Wagon Road and it soon prospered from all of the business generated by travelers. In 1901, the town of Sisters was formally established.
Visiting the preserve
A visit to this preserve gives you a magnificent view of the nearby peaks and buttes and a look at a meandering creek that has been carefully restored to its former glory. The preserve is rich in recent and ancient history and you can see why native peoples and settlers chose to visit and live here.
Last week I went on a Metolius Preserve 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 will 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. DLT also planted bunchgrass.
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. In December, visitors are encouraged to cut grand fir to use as Christmas trees so the larch can flourish.
One of the first things our guide, DavidMiller, pointed out to us was lichen. Lichens are a partnership between a fungus and an alga and/or cyanobacteria. The lichen he pointed out is Brown-eyed sunshine. Isn’t that a great common name?
We paused at a small lookout dock on the Metolius Preserve hike to look at Lake Creek. We learned 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.
Wide variety of plants
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.
Fun facts learned on Metolius Preserve hike
Here are a few tidbits I learned about some of these plants on the Metolius Preserve hike:
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.
If you type “John C. Frémont” into a search engine, you will turn up places named after him in over a dozen states in the U.S. So who was this guy and why were so many things named after him? To find out, I visited the Deschutes Historical Museum in Bend, Oregon to see their current exhibit about Frémont. The Museum was lucky to get the exhibit and it will be on display there until the end of December 2015.
This exhibit focuses on Frémont’s Second Exploring Expedition that occurred in 1843-1844. Many consider it to be the apex of his career. The purpose of this trip was to explore the Oregon country. Frémont, together with 27 handpicked men, including the explorer Kit Carson, set out to map the second half of the Oregon Trail.
Artifacts from the Exploring Expedition
One of the first things you see as you enter the gallery is a life-sized model of Frémont dressed in uniform with a presentation sword in his hands. The actual sword is displayed nearby. Frémont’s presentation sword and scabbard are described on one of the display boards. Photos show close ups of the hilt with a snake twisting around its length and a small map of Oregon on top of a rounded section. A gold wash coats most of the scabbard and hilt. Another case displays his presentation revolver. It is a .44 caliber 6-shot Colt Dragoon.
The exhibit displays some of the tools of the trade of early American explorers. A compass, sextant, and artificial horizon tool were essential for surveyors. A brass telescope sits at the ready to view distant landscapes. A compact case holds a drawing set used in making maps of previously unexplored areas. In Frémont’s travels he looked for rivers, lakes, and trails that could be used by future explorers and settlers.
Area of exploration
There is a large three-dimensional map in part of the exhibit that shows some of the locations he passed through during the Second Exploring Expedition. There are photos of the various locations that note the date he was there. He named several geographic features in Oregon including the Great Basin, Summer Lake, Winter Ridge, and Lake Abert. Though more people have moved into the areas he explored in eastern Oregon, many locations look much as they did during his explorations.
In the 1840’s there were few plant collections with specimens collected in western North America. Though many specimens were lost en route, Frémont’s expeditions collected 32 plants new to science. He studied botany in college and documented vegetation and land features on the trips. At least 23 of the new species discovered on the trip contain “Frémont” as part of their name. For example, Frémont cottonwood, Populus deltoids Fremont, is named after him. The exhibit shows examples of some of the preserved plants in part of the display.
The Frémont Howitzer
The expedition transported a cannon with them. A cannon carriage was attached to a horse or mule’s harness. There is some confusion as to why he wanted to carry a cannon with him into an area known to be relatively safe. He said it was to defend himself against “hostile Indians” but some conjectured that he wanted it to support a revolt against Mexico and protect California’s annexation into the U.S. He fired the cannon at the Klamath Tribe members camped near Klamath Marsh.
Due to that action, he was unable to get any of them to work as a scout for the expedition but they did provide useful geographic information. The cannon was abandoned on January 29, 1844 along the route. After many years, parts of the mountain howitzer cannon were discovered in 1997 and 2001. The discovery was made along the Nevada-California border by a team of searchers who called themselves the Fremont Howitzer Recovery Team. A re-creation of the howitzer is displayed in the exhibit.
Following Frémont’s path
The exhibit also features the work of photographer Loren Irving. He followed the route of Frémont and documented his journey with photos and diary entries. There are large framed prints of some of the locations hung on the walls of the exhibit area. Loren later compiled his work into a book entitled Finding Fremont.
The life of Frémont
The exhibit at Deschutes Historical Museum will teach you about one of Frémont’s five expeditions and give you a glimpse into his many other accomplishments. A copy of his book, Memoirs of My Life, is shown in a small case in the exhibit. It is easy to see how his life as an explorer, military officer, politician, and family man would be difficult to summarize in one book.
John C. Frémont was born in 1813 in Savannah, Georgia. He had a tough life right from the very start. His mother, Mrs. Anne Beverley Whiting Pryor, left her husband since she had fallen in love with her tutor, Louis-Rene ‘Charles’ Frémon. John was the product of that affair. Anne and Charles tried to marry but were denied a license by the state. The couple had two more children but John’s father died when he was five years old.
Consequently, the family moved to Charleston, South Carolina. John was a bright student and he won scholarships that helped him advance in his education. He entered the College of Charleston and continued to do well academically. John took a leave to help care for his mother and siblings and due to that decision, was expelled for “incorrigible negligence”. He worked as a mathematics teacher and went on to become a mathematics instructor for the military. John was the protégé of United States diplomat Joel Poinsett, who helped him get the position.
A life of service
He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1838. He was mentored by Joseph Nicollet who referred to him as “Frémont” instead of Frémon so he adopted that name in 1840. He led five expeditions over a 12 year period beginning in 1842.
United States Senator Thomas Hart Benton was a proponent of Westward expansion and he sought out Frémont and Nicollet to talk about their expeditions. After frequent trips to the Benton home, Frémont began courting the senator’s daughter, Jessie Ann Benton. The senator did not approve of the relationship so the couple ended up eloping.
Traveling a different route
On the Second Exploring Expedition, Frémont had been instructed to return by the same route but he chose a different way instead. There was a legend that a river known as Rio Buenaventura flowed from the Rocky Mountains to San Francisco Bay. He intended to prove or disprove its existence. Due to harsh weather conditions and low supplies of food, he only made it half way. He made his way to Fort Sutter in New Helvetica, now known as Sacramento.
He left in March of 1845 and travelled south. One of the places he camped at and named was Las Vegas or “The Meadow”. He travelled along the Wasatch Range and mapped the Great Basin’s periphery. Again Frémont disobeyed orders from his superiors and took a different route – this time to the west.
Topographer Charles Preuss traveled with Frémont and compiled data from the first two expeditions into the Frémont – Preuss map that was created in 1845. Many emigrants subsequently traversing the Oregon Trail relied upon Frémont’s maps in their travels west. He earned the nickname of “The Pathfinder”.
Accomplishments and controversy
In 1846, Frémont participated in the Mexican-American War in California as a U.S. military commander at the Bear Flag Revolt. His service while in the military was controversial but his actions caused General Pico to surrender thus ending the War in California. He refused to relinquish his appointment as Military Governor of California to General Kearny and ended up being court martialed. He was pardoned by President James Polk but resigned from the military in 1848.
Frémont later served as a Senator for the Democratic Party in the newly-formed state of California from 1850 to 1851. In 1856 he became the first Republican candidate for the office of President of the United States. Frémont was warned that his election may lead to civil war. Democrat James Buchanan won the race.
In July of 1861 President Abraham Lincoln appointed Frémont to be the major general in command of the Army’s Department of the West. A month later, Frémont issued an emancipation proclamation – more than a year ahead of Lincoln’s.
He oversaw troops in Missouri and Kansas – states that had problems with sympathizers, guerilla warfare, and Confederate units. After a major defeat in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, he imposed martial law in St. Louis. This included seizing slaves from citizens who aided the guerillas or Confederates.
Lincoln ordered him to rescind the order since he had hoped for a political end to the war that included having a balance of free and slave holding states. He did not want to offend the Union states. Frémont refused and his wife ended up pleading his case with Lincoln.
Frémont was relieved of duty in November of 1861. He was criticized for the way he prepared defenses. However, his decision to choose Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant over more senior officers was considered to be his greatest contribution to the Civil War.
Entrance into politics
Frémont was then given command of the Mountain Department in 1862. However, the Department only lasted from April to June of 1862. It was one of three unsuccessful armies that engaged with Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Frémont was offered another position working under Major General John Pope (who used to work under him) but he refused. He moved to New York City and waited for another call to duty but none ever came.
He was nominated to be president again in 1864 by the Radical Democracy Party (a party formed by a group of dissident Republicans) but withdrew and threw his support to Lincoln who was elected to a second term.
For the remaining years of his life, Frémont was troubled with controversy and financial problems. He was unsuccessful with his investments in railroad and real estate. He served as Governor of Arizona between 1878 and 1881.
His wife, Jessie, wrote books and articles that were popular with the public and the couple eventually relied upon the income garnered from them for income. Jessie is thought to have helped with editing her husband’s writings. In 1887 John C. Frémont published the first of two proposed volumes entitled Memoirs of My Life. There was little profit made from the first volume so the second was never published.
Recognition at last
He was finally recognized for his service and given a $6,000 annual pension in the spring of 1890 while working in New York City but died three months later on July 13. His wife, who was at their home in Los Angeles, was not able to attend the funeral due to their dire financial status.
The Frémont legacy lives on in several ways. Many places and plants bear his name. A commemorative stamp was issued in honor of him in 1898. The U.S. Army 8th Infantry Division (now inactive) was called the Pathfinder Division. The Fremont Cannon trophy, awarded in college football, is a replica of the cannon that was taken on the Second Exploring Expedition. Frémont has been recognized for his many achievements in several books, movies, and television shows.
Source for map of Second Exploring Expedition route:
I had several comments on my Facebook page about how to caption the tree photo I posted here a couple of days ago. If I was guessing what was going on, I might have said, “Tree Hugging 101 class”. Here are captions from Facebook:
“Black Legged Sap Sucker – very rare, and that’s for sure”.
Lady sniffing tree. “Yes Harry, this is the tree that farted”
“Stand back, hide behind a tree and maybe the grizzly bear and the black legged sap sucker won’t notice us”.
“My first boyfriend wrote our initials on one of these trees”.
The thing that was really happening in the photo was that a volunteer naturalist at the High Desert Museum was leading a walk and he had people smelling the Ponderosa pine’s bark. It has a sweet cinnamon-like smell.