Further Places – Episode 3 – Sierra Buttes

Originally by Shane Hanofee and published in Redbud News August 2019

Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata)

The weekend after July 4, Redbud members convened on the San Francisco State University (SFSU) Field Campus outside Sierra City for a weekend of exploring various plant communities in the Sierra Buttes area. Set among mature conifer trees along the meandering North Yuba River, and with an adjacent spring that flows down a gently sloping hillside to the river, the field campus itself offers a variety of habitats and many interesting plants and wildflowers.

The camping area featured scattered groups of Slender Penstemon (Penstemon gracilentus), Mountain Coyote Mint (Monardella odoratissima), and low-lying mats of Brewer’s Lupine (Lupinus breweri). Along the river, one could find Sierra Tiger Lily (Lillium parvum), Musk Monkeyflower (Erythranthe moschata), Streambank Bird’s-Foot Trefoil (Hosackia oblongifolia), and Mock Leopardbane (Arnica dealbata) growing in breaks of Mountain Alder (Alnus incana) thickets and Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea). The small spring area contained the amazingly large Sierra Larkspur (Delphinium glaucum), Alpine Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea alpina) as well as copious stands of Corn Lily (Veratrum californicum) and even a few Bog Wintergreen (Pyrola asarifolia).

Day Two, our Field Trip Leader, Diane Cornwall, led us on our first hike. Setting off from Lakes Basin Campground, we passed by ponds with the stalks of Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) poking their white-frilled flowers out of the water and surrounded by Western Labrador Tea (Rhododendron columbianum) and White Bog Orchids (Platanthera dilatata). Dry stands of Huckleberry Oak and Pinemat Manzanita sheltered One-Seeded Pussypaws (Calyptridium monospermum), Paintbrushes (Castilleja sp.), Bridge’s Pincushion Plant (Navarretia bridgesii), and Whiskerbrush (Leptosiphon ciliatus) among their sprawling branches. Where water seeped through we saw Mountain Spirea (Spirea splendens), Twinberry Honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata), Cascara (Frangula purshiana), and Rocky Mountain Maples (Acer glabrum). And finally, we had lunch on a rocky outcrop overlooking a waterfall, offering entirely new specimens to admire, including Hot Rock Penstemon (Penstemon deustus), Leichtlin’s Mariposa Lily (Calochortus leichtlinii), Bear Valley Buckwheat (Eriogonum ursinum), and Sierra Stonecrop (Sedum obtusatum).

Then it was off to a montane chaparral ridge whose dominant shrubs of Greenleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula) and Currants (Ribes sp.) obscured small, seldom seen wildflowers such as the Dwarf Chamaesaracha (Leucophysalis nana) and pale blue Beavertail Grass (Calochortus coeruleus). The drive back to camp was spent admiring seas of Woolly Mule’s Ears (Wyethia mollis) and hunting seeps for Brewer’s Bishop’s Cap (Mitella breweri) with its small, delicate, alien-looking flower petals, as well as Sparse Flowered Bog Orchid (Platanthera sparsiflora) sporting tiny green flowers.

The final day had us exploring the wet meadows at Yuba Pass, impressed at the huge numbers of Alpine Shooting Stars (Primula tetranda) outlining where the draining streams ran their course.

We saw, poking above the vegetation, splashes of pink, blue, and white — Little Elephant’s Head (Pedicularis attollens), Small Camas (Camassia quamash), and American Bistort (Bistorta bistortoides). Requiring closer examination and hugging the ground were petite but gorgeous plants, easily overlooked: Tinker’s Penny (Hypericum anagalloides), Harkness’ Flax Flower (Leptosiphon harknessii), and and Primrose Monkeyflower (Erythranthe primuloides).

Our last outing found us in the Jeffery Pine woodlands (Pinus jefferyi), where we saw large populations of Woodland Pinedrop (Pterospora andromedea) emerging from the pine duff. This plant is a mycoheterotroph, meaning it gets its food from parasitizing fungi in the soil, in this case from Rhizopogon truffles.

Here we also got acquainted with Pinewoods Horkelia (Horkelia fusca), Grand Collomia (Collomia grandiflora), and Lesser Wintergreen (Pyrola minor). Our exploration elicited a wonderful herbal odor, as it turned out we had stumbled on a patch of Oblong Bluecurls (Trichostema oblongum) not 2 inches high and yet so wonderfully pleasant smelling. And one of our group located a rather stately Catchfly (Silene sp.) whose identification still has us stumped weeks later.

The Sierra Buttes trip proved an enormous success. Our close-knit and sharp-eyed group of native plant enthusiasts had the privilege of discovering and appreciating a plethora of fascinating plants. To quote a “newbie” who wrote afterwards to her new friends, “What a weekend that was! Thanks for making my intro to the ‘Redbud Tribe’ so much fun.”

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