News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

A wild year for wildflowers

Maybe you were out for a walk recently on a cool morning and then had to stop and stare at a familiar landscape, now painted with color. Tiny hot-pink monkeyflowers across a sandy flat, a pine forest bright with the yellow sunflowers of balsamroot, or a meadow scattered with waving stalks of blue flax. It’s been an exceptional year for wildflowers in Sisters Country and now is the time to enjoy them before late summer heat.

Sisters has an unusual amount of plant diversity because of the variety of habitats here. There is a steep moisture/rainfall gradient from the deep snows of the Cascades to the arid desert edge. This spring and early summer, soaking rain and moderate temperatures allowed hidden seed banks everywhere to explode. Forests and flats are supporting a wildflower party.

In dry, sandy soils and shrublands, many people have noticed the lavender flowers of thin-leaved phacelia. Phacelia often formed a carpet of light lavender hues, punctuated by bright yellow Oregon sunshine.

Areas near water are always a great place to see many different wildflowers. Big leaf lupine is in its prime along moist creeks and rivers. White bog orchids can light up banks along with beautiful shrubs of purple Douglas spirea and wild roses.

Pine forests in Sisters support a variety of flowers, including several species of penstemon, a species with the inelegant but descriptive common name of Beardtongue, referring to the fifth stamen, which is often covered with hairs. The American Penstemon Society just visited Sisters to see the rare Peck’s penstemon, in its multicolored glory from pinks to blues, as well as the beautiful deep blue lowly pentstemon, the large showy penstemon, and the glaucus penstemon, which can form a ground cover of grayish-blue leaves with tall blue flowers, especially after fires. Our claim to penstemon fame is that Peck’s penstemon grows only in Sisters and nowhere else in the world.

The flower displays at the highest elevations are said to be spectacular on the Willamette National Forest’s Cascade Crest areas this year. Favorite high areas near Sisters are just opening up and will soon to display pink and yellow monkeyflowers, strange exquisite orchids like ladies’ tresses and the blue ash penstemon. Yes, the scientists have been busy with name changes and monkeyflowers have left the nice Latin name Mimulus behind for the tongue twisting Erythranthe.

Like life, peak wildflower bloom goes by too fast. It’s fun to visit a certain place on repeat, a week or two apart, and see what new has arrived. The local Forest Service office can give you guidelines on ethical native plant collection, and it’s fun to tuck a few seeds of a favorite in your pocket for your native plant garden. Watch out for invasive weeds, but please don’t pull the nice native thistle.

That shady high meadow you like will soon be full of Indian paintbrush. They are out there waiting for you.


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