Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is tucked into the northeastern corner of Oregon and the western edge of Idaho. We visited Hells Canyon in the spring last year. At the overlook, the meadows were carpeted in wildflowers. Perfect timing for pictures!
Many different types of flowers were in full bloom.
We had great weather to take in the panoramic view. The Snake River winds through this canyon nearly 8,000 feet below the canyon rim. Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America, is almost 2,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Whitestem frasera plants grew in dense clumps sprinkled with pale purple flowers.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area was created in 1975. It encompasses 652,488 acres. There are nearly 2,900 miles of trails in this recreation area.
The dramatic landscape was formed by volcanic activity hundreds of millions of years ago followed by collisions of tectonic plates. The mountains eroded over time. A series of lava flows sculpted them into the mountains we see today.
Purple larkspur flowers bordered the trail. I have a different native variety growing on my desert property near Bend, Oregon. One of my favorite plants!
A gallery of Hells Canyon wildflowers
Here’s a gallery of some of the other wildflowers I saw that day. I had never seen these varieties of balsamroot or clematis flowers anywhere before. Wonderful sights to see!
You can see Seven Devils Mountain peeking out in this view to the north.
Hells Canyon Overlook is located 45 miles east of Joseph, Oregon, where we stayed. Check road conditions ahead of time because there can be snow in this high elevation area. It takes about 1 hour 45 minutes to get there from Joseph since you drive on twisting, turning Forest Service roads. The drive is well worth it!
This small groundcover plant is actually a type of dogwood. These striking plants range in height from eight inches, as in the bunchberry, to the 60-foot tall Pacific dogwood tree. Beautiful in any size!
We stopped at the Kiger Gorge overlook on Steens Mountain in August and saw tiny flowers at our feet. These are prostrate lupines, Lupinus lepidus var. lobbii. I put my hand in the picture just to give you an idea of the scale.
This native plant grows in alpine habitats. The tiny blue or purple flowers measure 1/3 inch across. The plant grows to a height of 4-6 inches. Another common name for this low profile plant is “dwarf lupine.” Lupines have distinctive leaves that are almost star-like in form. The seedpods are often covered with soft “hair.”
Prostrate lupine blooms in June, July, and August. The plants I saw in late August were growing at 9,000 feet in elevation. Everything blooms later there.
This lupine ranges north to the Cascade and Olympic mountains in Washington State, south to northern California and east to western Idaho and Nevada. Prostrate lupines grow on talus slopes and in rocky pumice soils at high elevations.
Prostrate lupine is a perennial that grows in areas with heavy snowfall in the winter and short dry summers. Like other lupines, its flowers attract pollinators.
Sunflowers & stagecoaches? You may be wondering how those two things go together.
Last August we explored the Steens Mountain area by car. Did you know you can drive all the way around this 50-mile long mountain and to its 9,700-foot peak at certain times of the year? The views from up there are breathtaking!
The following pictures are from the dirt road on the east side of Steens Mountain. Common sunflowers, Helianthus annus L., were in full bloom along the road.
As their name implies, common sunflowers are common throughout the conterminous United States and in parts of Canada and Mexico. Sunflowers have been introduced in other parts of North America and throughout the world. They occur in a wide variety of habitats including prairies, roadsides, near railroad right-of-ways, savannas, and forest edges.
These leggy plants grow 1.5 to 8+ feet tall and bloom from July through October. Their iconic flowers actually have two kinds of flowers. The yellow “ray” flowers look like petals but each is an individual flower. The “disc” flowers, at the center of the brown head, are usually small. If you magnified your view of the center of the flower, you would see that each of these disc flowers had five petals. The alternate leaves, and the main stem are covered in coarse hair.
The value of sunflowers
Sunflowers are valuable to both wildlife and people. The seeds are sought out by many species of birds. Do you have sunflower seeds from the cultivated variety of sunflower in your bird feeder? If you do, you know how much birds and other wildlife enjoy eating them.
Now on to how this plant is used by humans. Wow! Where do I start?
You have probably munched on sunflower seeds, but did you know the yellow flowers are also edible? They make a colorful addition to a salad.
In July of 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled along the Missouri River in Montana and recorded these observations on sunflowers.
The sunflower is in bloom [NB: Copy for Dr. Barton] and abundant in the river bottoms. The Indians of the Missouri particularly those who do not cultivate maze make great uce of the seed of this plant for bread, or use it in thickening their soope. they most commonly first parch the seed and then pound them between two smooth stones untill they reduce it to a fine meal. to this they sometimes mearly add a portion of water and drink it in that state, or add a sufficient quantity of marrow grease to reduce it to the consistency of common dough and eate it in that manner. the last composition I think much best and have eat it in that state heartily and think it a pallateable dish.
There are many medicinal uses of this annual plant. Flowers were used for heart problems and in treating burns. Roots were used in treating blisters and snakebites. Native Americans made a leaf tea to treat lung ailments and high fevers. A poultice was applied to snake and spider bites. Seeds were used as diuretics and to help heal coughing.
Some current uses
In addition to the historical usages, sunflowers are used in creating dyes, soap, cattle and chicken feed, and a fine silky fiber, similar to hemp. Sunflower oil is widely consumed in both North America and Europe.
Fun Fact: Some Native Americans believed sunflowers were a symbol of courage. Warriors would carry sunflowers cakes with them into battle. Hunters would sprinkle themselves with sunflower powder to keep their spirits up.
Sunflowers & stagecoach stop
So now you know more about sunflowers, but why is this post called Sunflowers & Stagecoaches? While taking pictures of the sunflowers, I remembered to look for an old stagecoach stop I had seen on a Circling Steens Mountain birding field trip. Ah ha! Found it. See the dark spots in the middle of this photo? Those are the remnants of a stagecoach stop.
Here’s a closer look. The crumbling rock walls are all that’s left of this stop.
In the late 1800s to early 1900s, stagecoach routes crisscrossed the West. On the more heavily traveled routes there were stops every 25 miles or so. Why that distance? That’s about how far a team of horses pulling wagons full of goods and passengers could travel. Their progress was slow due to difficult terrain and weather that could quickly change from scorching heat to bone-chilling cold.
Some of these stations were just for changing horse teams while others had accommodations available for travelers. The stops in Fields and Frenchglen offered more options for weary travelers. One stop near the one pictured above charged 25 cents for overnight lodging and meals. The charge for the care of each horse was an additional 25 cents.
Travel along these stagecoach routes was not fast. For example, the east-west route from Ontario, Oregon to Burns, Oregon took approximately 40 hours. Today that 130-mile route takes 2 hours 12 minutes. But imagine all the sights those early travelers must have seen on those slow journeys…
I saw these blazing star beauties at the top of Pilot Butte in Bend, Oregon last August. Pilot Butte is an extinct volcano that is a state scenic viewpoint. It’s a great place to visit for a 360 degree high desert view! You can see in the photos that these flowers are growing on cinder rocks. The Sisters volcanic peaks are in the background of the last picture.
Blazing star, Mentzelia laevicaulis, is a native plant that grows along roadsides and on sandy, gravelly, or rocky slopes. This plant has showy star-shaped flowers filled with bunches of yellow stamens. The flowers can measure 5-6 inches across.
They grow 3-6 feet tall and bloom June through September. The rough leaves are gray-green in color. One of their common names is ‘stickleaf’ because the leaves have barbed hairs that stick to clothing, etc.
Native Americans used them medicinally for several ailments. Roots were used in treating earaches, rheumatism and arthritis, and thirst. Fevers, mumps, measles, and smallpox were treated with a root infusion. Root infusions were also used to reduce swelling of bruises. Leaves were boiled and the liquid was used for stomachaches and as a wash for skin conditions.
Blazing star plants range from southern Canada south through the western United States (Zones 9a-11).
They can be grown in gardens from seed or starts. This plant grows well in full sun in gravelly or sandy soils. They require little water and the bright yellow flowers look great in rock gardens.
Blazing stars are biennials or short-lived perennials. They are hardy and deer-resistant. The blossoms are of special value to bees, butterflies, and moths.
Fun fact: The spectacular flowers open mid-morning and stay open throughout the night so they are a favorite with nocturnal pollinators like hawk moths and carpenter bees.
The Lens-Artists photo challenge today is “unique.” I thought of several unique sights I’ve seen in Oregon that fit this category.
Our guide in Harney County referred to this ancient petroglyph as the Super 8. Do you see a resemblance to an old movie camera? Petroglyphs are carved into stone while pictographs are painted onto stone.
I saw these hairy clematis flowers at the Hell’s Canyon Overlook earlier this month. This unusual flower has a lot of common names including lion’s beard, leather flower, vase flower, and sugar bowl. They look similar to prairie smoke flowers featured in a previous post.
I can’t help but think of the words “unique sights” when I recall this toad I found in my high desert yard. I thought it was so interesting that I wrote a short story about it called The Toad Queen.
Pronghorn are one of my favorite animals. Besides being fast and looking cool, they are in their own family. They are the only member of Antilocapridae.
Sometimes you see a common species, like this red-tailed hawk, from a unique perspective. I snapped a quick picture of this one taking off from a cliff.
A few years ago, fires were burning around us in all directions. Fortunately, none of the fires were very close but the smoke caused the skies to turn brilliant colors.
The sand lily, also known as the star lily, is a delicate perennial wildflower found in western North America. It grows in sagebrush deserts, open montane forests, and in sandy and rocky soils.
The plant above is growing near sagebrush in an uncultivated part of my property near Bend, Oregon. There is only one plant and I look forward to it blooming every spring.
I have seen “fields” of sand lily growing in other locations. This field was seen on a hike near Tumalo dam.
Last year I planted two sand lily plants I purchased at WinterCreek Restoration and Nursery and they bloomed a couple weeks ago. This nursery specializes in native plants that use little water.
If you see sand lilies in nature, you may be tempted to dig them up to plant in your yard. Unfortunately, this plant, with its long rhizome growing beneath the soil, does not transfer well.
Please enjoy them in nature and purchase them from a trusted source. They will grow in USDA zones 5-9. They do well in rock gardens with lots of sunlight. Sand lilies require very little water to shine brightly in your garden.
Here’s a haiku about this plant I featured in a previous post – Tiny Oasis
The fringed gentian, Gentianopsis thermalis, grows in meadows, bogs, and on moist ground. This species prefers growing in warm places and it’s common near geysers and hot springs in Yellowstone National Park. It is the official flower of the park.
This plant grows to a height of 4-16 inches and blooms in May through August. This annual has purple flowers 1.5-3 inches in length. The showy flowers are fringed along the edges.
Fringed gentians can be found across northern Canada and south through the Rocky Mountains and into parts of New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada.
Native Americans used gentians to treat headaches and as an antidote to witchcraft.
Fun fact: The flowers curl up and close on cloudy days leaving just the tops visible. The closed flowers resemble a small windmill.
Prairie smoke, Geum triflorum, is a native plant of the prairies and it’s a less showy member of the rose family. The sepals on their droopy flowers are fused shut so they can’t open fully. I was drawn to this plant with its plain flowers and deeply serrated leaves.
The plants grow 6-10″ tall and bloom in late spring through early summer. Once the flowers are fertilized, they are followed by feathery wispy “fruits” (achenes) that somewhat resemble smoke. Another common name for this plant is Old Man’s Whiskers. The semi-evergreen leaves turn varying shades of red, purple, and orange in the fall.
Native Americans used prairie smoke roots and crushed seeds in eye washes, sore throat remedies, yeast infection treatments, and to help with stomach and menstrual cramps. The Nlaka’pmx used its roots in a drink and in a body wash in sweathouses. The Okanagan also used it in a love potion for women.
This plant can be found in southern Canada and in the central and northern United States (Zones 3-7). It grows in gravelly soils, but also in silty and loamy soils.
It can be grown in rock gardens and prefers sites with moist springs and drier winters. Prairie smoke tolerates summer sun and has low water needs.
Fun fact: Prairie smoke flowers are pollinated mainly by bumblebees. They have to force their way into the closed flowers to reach the nectar.
The antelope bitterbrush appears to be reaching for the sky in this photograph. This plant gets its common name due to the fact that it is so important to wildlife. Deer, elk, moose, mountain sheep, and pronghorn (antelope) browse on its small three-toothed leaves and use its dense growth for cover. It’s also important for deer mice, kangaroo rats, sage grouse, and Lewis’ woodpecker.
I have seen plants over twelve feet tall but in my yard, they only reach a height of about three feet. My “landscapers” love to prune them. In certain parts of this plant’s range, bitterbrush can comprise up to 91% of mule deer’s diet in September.
The Central Oregon Wildflower Show is on hiatus in 2018 but the Native Plant Sale is taking place this weekend, June 9 and 10, at Sunriver Nature Center. Click on Sunriver Nature Center – Upcoming Special Events for more information. I am sharing an article I wrote last year about the show.
Getting to know local flora at the Wildflower Show
Colorful examples of native plants drew crowds to the 29th annual Central Oregon Wildflower Show at Sunriver Nature Center on July 1-2, 2017. Participants could visit a room packed full with cuttings of plants, each of which were clearly labeled. Visitors could go on short staff-led wildflower hikes near the Nature Center to see some of the featured plants growing in the wild. Volunteers working at the event were ready to answer questions visitors might have.
Teams of volunteers headed out on the day before the show to collect wildflowers and other plants. They collected plant cuttings in the Cascade Mountains and near Metolious, Odell, and Crescent Lakes. They also collected specimens near Bend and eastwards into the Ochoco Mountains. Nearly 300 specimens were collected and identified for the wildflower show, the only event of this type in Central Oregon.
Up close and personal
If you’ve ever wondered what a particular plant was, this was a good place to find out. “Is that what balsamroot looks like?” I heard one visitor say. She was happy to put a “face” with that name. Seeing labeled plant cuttings of certain plants that are hard to identify, such as grasses, helped visitors figure out what they may have seen in the field.
There were cuttings from grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees at this show. Cuttings of the plants were neatly arranged in water-filled vases around the room. Many were in full bloom. Lavender-colored Mariposa lilies shared the room with scarlet red paintbrush, yellow Oregon sunshine, blue and purple showy penstemon, and delicate white queen’s-cup. It was interesting to see so many plants in one place and think about which types you might want to put in your own yard.
Going native with plants from the Wildflower Show
The Wildflower Show had a limited supply of native plants for sale that were provided by a local nursery. Planting your yard with low-water usage plants can not only help you spend less on your water bill, it can also ensure your plants grow well and attract butterflies, bees, and other wildlife.
One of the most interesting displays at this show consisted of weeds that grow in the area. Yes, the Dalmatian toadflax plant is pretty with its snapdragon-like yellow flowers and interesting leaf structure. However, it can easily get out of control and push out native species. Knowing what some of these noxious weeds look like can make it easier for you to know what to pull in your yard. Here’s a link to a brochure that has pictures of some of the invasive weeds that grow locally. Noxious Weeds: Your Responsibility.
Learning from our community
Booths representing several local groups were set up outside at this show. Local author, LeeAnn Kriegh, featured in the July 2017 High Desert Voices newsletter, was among them. Participants had many questions and the representatives from the different groups were very helpful in answering them. There were several wildflower-related lectures at this show. Damian Fagan, of the High Desert Museum, gave a lecture about locations where you might find various wildflower species. Other lectures were about getting to know some of the state’s flora, native plant landscaping, and how to provide habitat for monarch butterflies.
If you are curious to learn more about native plant species, consider going to this show next year. It is small, but it’s jam-packed with helpful information. Proceeds from the native plant sale and admission benefit the non-profit Sunriver Nature Center.
There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was fortunate to share a moment with a wild rose near Clarno, Oregon. It is beautiful and delicate when viewed close up.
Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.
Zooming out you can see how its blossoms and fruits are protected by sharp thorns. As you make your way through the thorns of life, keep looking forward towards the moments of peace offered by its flowers.
Lupine plants were in full bloom on a recent trip I took to Glass Buttes, Oregon. They have beautiful flowers and a unique leaf form. The palmately divided leaves of lupine can have five to 28 leaflets. Water often funnels down the leaflets and collects at their base.
The leaves of a plant usually frame a beautiful flower. In the case of the bitterroot plant, the flowers are so “big” you hardly notice the leaves. These delicate flowers are only about an inch and a half across.
In the early spring months, you might notice the narrow succulent leaves of the plant sprouting up long before they flower. They are so small that you may overlook them. Here’s what they look like.
This plant was very important to Native Americans in western North America. The roots were dried and mixed with berries and meat. The plants were also used medicinally. Bitterroot roots were collected and traded and they were an item of high value. For more about them, visit my post – Desert Bitterroot Oasis.
Here are a few pictures of the blossoms from that post. They are a very small plant with tiny leaves, large blossoms, and enormous beauty. One of my favorites!
One of my favorite things to do when I get up in the morning is to look out my window at this night-blooming primrose. I love getting a glimpse of its bold yet delicate blossoms before they go to sleep and close up during the day.
Oasis moments sometimes happen in the desert. While hiking to Chimney Rock near Prineville, Oregon, we came across a patch of bitterroot flowers. The small flowers burst forth from cracks in the sandy soil in shades of pink and white. The flowers are only about an inch and a half across. The plant is delicate yet hardy at the same time.
I had never seen so many blossoms in one place. Bitterroot has always been a plant that amazes me. It was hard for me to keep walking with our group when a part of me just wanted to crouch down to their level and marvel at their perfection.
What Meriwether Lewis wrote about bitterroot
Beneath the soil, a taproot gives this plant its name. Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, first saw the bitterroot plant in Lemhi County, Montana on August 22, 1805. Lewis tasted the root and described it in his journal:
this the Indians with me informed were always boiled for use. I made the exprement, found that they became perfectly soft by boiling, but had a very bitter taste, which was naucious to my pallate, and I transfered them to the Indians who had eat them heartily.
Baskets & photo of digging stick, Warm Springs Museum
Usage by Native Americans
Bitterroot can be found in much of western North America in drier areas with well-drained gravelly soils and several tribes made use of the plant. Shoshoni, Flathead, Nez Perce, Paiute, Kutenai, and other tribes used digging sticks to collect the roots in the spring. The roots were dried and were often mixed with berries and meat.
The roots were traded and bartered and were considered to be of great value. A bagful was worth as much as a horse. They were used as food but also had medicinal uses. Bitterroot was used for several ailments including heart problems and sore throats. They were also used to treat wounds and to increase milk flow in nursing mothers.
President Thomas Jefferson had asked Lewis to collect plant specimens on their expedition. Bitterroot plants were collected on the return trip in June of 1806. The area in Montana where the plants were collected is now known as the Bitterroot Valley. Specimens were given to the botanist Frederick Pursh in Philadelphia. Pursh named the plant Lewsii redviva in honor of Lewis.
Fun fact: The species name redviva means “reviving from a dry state.” The specimens presented to Pursh came back to life even though they had been dug up many months before.