Posts Tagged ‘wildflowers’

Yesterday was the Opening Day for the county we live in (Stage 1, whatever that means. Restaurants, pubs, and churches with limited seating – I think).

It was also the first warm and dry day following a week of rains: morel hunting time! Morels only come out in the Spring and can be elusive. We have never found a good spot to hunt on the west side of the Cascades, so foraging for these delicious and precious mushrooms is about a ninety minute drive over Mount Hood and the Cascades to Central Oregon. That’s as close as I will get to telling you where we look for them. Morel hunters know the best spots, the right terrains, and the approximate right time of year to look. They also don’t divulge their secrets.

It was a nice day for a drive. The snow that fell at Government Camp earlier in the week was nearly melted off in the bar pits. The lanes were clear and dry. We only saw three near-accidents (all three caused by impatient drivers with no concern for speed limits, passing lanes, double yellow lines, or other drivers).

Don saw a little buck in velvet.

The Forest Service had signs up warning campers and hikers that the forest is “CLOSED” but all gates were open and people had set up camps in their large motorhomes in the open, undesignated camp sites. We heard dirt bikes later in the day and came across three as we left the area (they have designated trails and keep to them). The forest was as open as it has ever been.

I was not really into the mood. My mind was elsewhere, on things I wanted to do at home. But there is something about being out in the forest or the wide open sagebrush spaces that calms the heart and clears the mind. The smells of duff, pine, and fresh air.

We walked. Don wandered. I kept him in my line of sight (most of the time). There was minimal bear sign, a lot of deer sign (or elk), and dozens of different fungus: toadstools, psilocybins, puff balls, and many, many more. Oh, and the wildflowers! Teeny, teensy, tiny wildflowers! I kept getting lost in the flora. Don kept finding morels.

My SmartPhone has the best macro lens. Large leaf sandwort. Moehringia macrophylla. (and a dirty fingernail for comparison)


I think this is a small-flowered tonella. Tonella tenella. My pinkie finger for comparison.


Small-flowered blue-eyed Mary. Collinsia parviflora.


Calypso or Fairy Slipper.Calypso bulbosa. I didn’t have to look this one up. If it is up, the morels are up.

I had to stand and orient myself. Don was nowhere in sight. A widow-maker moaned (a widow-maker is a tree that has fallen, but its descent was stopped by the branches of another tree and so it hangs, leaning against the living tree, moaning when they rub together, and waiting to fall. Many a man has met his death under such a tree, hence the nickname.) Birds called unfamiliar tunes.

Ah, there was Don, about a hundred feet to my left. He saw me and came over to to tell me he’d found about six morels so far. I hadn’t seen a one.

He started away. A flash of brilliant red and yellow crossed my line of sight and a Western Tanager landed on the tree just ahead of me. I called out to Don to show him. There’s nothing quite like a Western Tanager in brilliant coloring and lack of fear around human beings. They are curious and friendly birds. This one dove in chase of a small dragonfly, narrowly missing my legs. It missed the fly as well and returned to a branch just over my head. Don shook his head, “Wow.”

The bird tried a second time and missed again. He stopped on a fence rail and looked at me before flying off.


(Stock photo – not mine)

We wandered apart again. I got lost in the fungi. I lost Don at least two more times. The trees soughed in the light breeze. Dirt bikes roared somewhere nearby.

We finally headed back to the car. We ranged through the downfall and small sunlit meadows or low-growing wildflowers. Lupins pushed up their leaves, not ready yet to burst into blue flowers. Ravens passed overhead, croaking. Robins flitted.

I wore the wrong socks for my hiking boots and was beginning to regret it. Too thin and the boots slipped on my feet. I’ve had these boots for decades, my favorite pair of Vasque hiking boots purchased at an REI yard sale as “lightly used” not heavily used. They require thin liner socks and thick wool socks for maximum comfort. I was wearing thin wool socks.

I found two morels. Don found over a dozen in the same area.


Another stock photo (not mine) but we collected about twice this (Don did). All blonde morels. All fresh. The dark ones he found were old and crumbling.

We ended up with about 30 mushrooms, no bugs, and fresh. We always cut them off at the base and leave the stem in the ground to perpetuate the fungus. Never pull them out of the ground, taking the entire stem.

The drive back was faster than the drive out – no slow vehicles to plod behind, waiting for a passing lane or a chance to pass. We stopped at our newest favorite brewery, Bent Shovel Brewing.

They are an outdoor venue, lots of space to separate people and tables. Good beer. Good people.



We sat in the sun and watched storm clouds gather over home.

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A Hunting We Will Go

My sweet husband convinced me that we needed to go hunting yesterday. No animals were ever in danger.

We were hunting the elusive morel mushroom. This is a tricky little number to hunt: too cold and it hasn’t come out yet. Too warm, and it came up a week ago and is all dried up, bug-infested and picked over by other mushroom hunters. There’s a “just right” condition, but that’s nearly as elusive as the mushroom itself.

It has been wet and cool, with a sudden warm-up, so we thought conditions might be perfect.

I haven’t been in the woods since 2010. That’s a very sorry state of affairs, but last year was a somewhat sorry year. My dad died in early May and I spent most of the month in Nevada, trying to help my brother sort everything out.

Don was of a mind to stay on back-roads all the way to our “secret” picking spot (I’d tell you where, but then I would have to kill you. And if I didn’t kill you, the other mushroom pickers who know our secret place would have to. It’s really not so secret). It’s over on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, a little over an hour’s drive. The point was, Don wanted to stay on back roads, but it’s only been a week since snow levels were down to “pass level” or 4,000′ elevation. He checked the USFS website and the website said the roads he wanted were open, but he really wanted to talk to someone and ask if they were actually passable.

There’s no one in the office on Saturdays to talk to.

Which brings us to the permit: you are supposed to pick up a free permit to pick mushrooms. In years past, the permit has been hanging in the little Forest Service kiosk in Zig Zag, by the Ranger Station. But not this year. No, this year the leaflet explaining all these rules said that the free permit could be obtained by dropping by the USFS Office during their regular business hours (or during your regular work hours in Portland, meaning you would have to take the time off to drive to the Ranger Station during work hours, forgoing your wages for the time out of your work week it takes, to obtain a free permit to do something you didn’t think about doing until Saturday morning when the weather was nice and you decided to drive up the mountain only to discover you can’t get a permit except during regular business hours).

We bagged the permit idea.

Yes, I just admitted that we went into the woods with the intent of picking morel mushrooms without our “free” permit because it was a spur-of-the-moment decision to go ‘shrooming and their office was closed so we couldn’t get a damn permit in the first place.

<rolls eyes>

But we were never in danger.


The morels we found were old, buggy, and inedible. We missed the small window of morel mushroom opportunity. So did a lot of other people as we saw several other cars and pickers out in the woods.

It was really nice to be out in the woods.

The wind soughed through the tops of the pines and the widow-makers creaked against the trees that held them up. We climbed over dead-fall and negotiated the maze of wind-blown tree skeletons. There were lots of wild flowers out, most of which I have identified.

I used Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest by Mark Turner & Phyllis Gustafson. Some flowers refuse to be identified except by some means of a huge tome of botanical keys. I am pretty certain we have that tome in our library but it requires a more extensive knowledge of Latin and scientific terms like petioles, pinnately, and stipules. In short, it’s way too much bother for me when I can just photograph the flowers and enjoy them forever, nameless but beautiful.

We also saw a few other mushrooms out, like psilocybin and some “coral” mushrooms and Artist’s conks. I didn’t bother to look any of the other mushrooms up, preferring to leave most of the fungi anonymous. Psilocybin is easily identified and we left those alone. I can hallucinate all by myself, thank-you-very-much.

We ate lunch at Bear Springs picnic area.

On our way back home, Don decided to check out those back roads that were supposedly open. He figured that we had made it to our destination, we were on the return trip back, and we were starting from the upper elevations going down, so the worst would be at the top.

Yep. Roads are “open” but not passable. We turned around between ice and snow floes and returned to the main roads, thankful that we hadn’t tried to come up that way.

I’ve inserted the best of my photos. If you hover your mouse over a photo, the name of the wildflower will come up (if I know what it is). Sometimes I even figured out the Latin name. You should be proud of me!

Also, clicking on any image will bring it up full size.


Oh, the elk scat was just for kicks.

And we didn’t need that mushroom picking permit because we never picked any mushrooms.

No wildflowers were harmed.



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Friday of last week we stopped for a stroll in the woods to search for the elusive wild morel. The wild, yummy morel.

There are so many species of morels! It is not difficult to know a morel from any other mushroom in the wild: the only other mushroom that begins to resemble a morel is the false morel.

I have heard many theories about where morels grow best. They come up the spring after a fire, they come up around last year’s burn piles in the forest (where logging crews have burned brush), they come up around pine trees and they like the north slopes. Folks who pick them carefully guard their picking sites with secrecy (but I can tell you that we saw several other cars out in the woods where we were looking so no place is truly secret if a morel hunter is out in the woods).

We did gather about a half gallon of very fresh ‘shrooms, a sign that we were spot on for the timing of our hunt and maybe a week early.

While I walked around with my eyes on the ground, I decided to snap some other photos as well (of course).

A row of Calypso bulbosa (Fairy Slippers) in bloom.

The delicate anenome oregana (Blue Windflower) could be seen blooming throughout the woods.

There were still a few fresh trilliums in bloom.

An exploded puff ball mushroom (I love to stomp on these and watch the black cloud of spores explode into the air). (They are not edible!)

Last year’s maple leaf becomes a work of art.

Carpenter ants were on the move.

And there was this “whatzit?”

I’ve seen some bright orange fungi and jelly-like fungi, but nothing quite like this before.

So – you tell me. What is it?? And to keep this interesting, I’m going to offer a prize to whoever figures it out. I’ll send you a copy of The Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers (for whichever region you live in).

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I need some help. I have some things growing in my yard and I don’t know what I’ve planted. Or the birds planted. Whatever. Mystery flowers that I can’t seem to find in the books around our house.

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It’s blue and reminds me a little of a shooting star. The leaves are huge and fuzzy, like the leaves on the borage. I think it came in a packet of wildflower seeds I sowed last summer.It came up behind my irises, between the dahlia that never bloomed last year (but is blooming this year) and the holly hock and the Russian sage.

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And this. It’s a biennial, I know that. It came up in the veggie garden last year and the silvery-green leaves were interesting, so Don let it grow. this year it bloomed. I have one in my flower beds that is in the first year state: just leaves.

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It almost reminds me of a four-o’clock. The birds must have planted it in our yard because it didn’t come up where I’ve dropped wild flower (or other) seeds).

I know almost every thing else that is blooming in my yard:

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I had to snoop out this – another wildflower seed mystery. It was supposed to be a packet of Pacific Northwest wildflowers, but this is a common evening primrose. The guide books list it as native to the east coast and a common transplant in the west. It’s also a biennial. And it was much prettier – before Murphy stepped on it and it ended up growing sideways. Resilient wildflower! (I think I can get a better photo now – the side stems are blooming. When I took this photo, I had to crawl under the peony where it landed when Murphy broke the main stalk,)

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candytuft – I love this particular wildflower. It’s a self-seeding annual & if you keep it dead-headed, it will bloom all summer. I fell behind in that this year and a lot of it is reseeding instead of reblooming. But that means more blooms next year. Nice cut flower for my collection of vases!

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This is the silver-leaf arnica that Don dug up for me last year. It’s taking over the flower bed and expanding with new starts this year. I’ll have to divide it in the fall! It’s showy, attracts bees and is a lovely cut flower.

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This is a bush mallow we bought at Portland Nursery. I guess it can grow to 15′ ?? It does get quite tall, but I cut it back in the winter. Very showy and it makes a great cut flower in a large vase.

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My “black” hollyhock. I have several hollyhocks (biennials!), but this is my favorite. When I was a little girl, we had hollyhocks growing wild in the yard and my dad hated them. I never understood why he hated them so. They aren’t great cut flowers, but you can make hollyhock “ladies” (I’m sensing the need for a blog on that!) and they’re just showy garden flowers.

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This flower is a mistake to let into your yard. I’ve done it before and I honestly don’t know how it got into my garden this year unless it came from that packet of wildflower seeds. I’ll tolerate it this year and maybe next, but then I will have to rip it out (and all the underground trailing roots!!!!) because it is very, very invasive. But, darn – it is so pretty and it makes excellent cut flowers, the bees love it and so do the hummingbirds! You just have to love fireweed despite it’s overgrown tendencies.

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We thought we lost this baby. It’s a “tender annual” that we purchased from Portland Nursery two years ago. Nothing came up last year. But this year – I tossed some random seeds and several came up. Datura Lilac. It’s a highly poisonous jimsonweed. Certainly pretty, though! Not a good cut flower – it blooms one day and fades, like the daylilies. Then more blossoms come on.

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I confess, this isn’t even in my flower garden. It’s in the vegetable garden. But it is pretty! Yukon Gold potato vine.

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And my climbing nasturtiums. With little tendrils of borage in the foreground. The stupid borage plants have taken over my garden and now stand 6′ tall by 6′ wide and 6′ deep. And I’ve tied them up to no avail. I’ll have to divide and move them.

But the nasturtiums are thriving in spite of the borage.

I have Shasta daisies, daylilies and a variety of pansies in bloom right now, too. All flowers I can identify (common names, at least!). But I really can’t figure out what those first two pictured are. I think the purple one is a four o’clock, but I can’t seem to come close on the blue one.

I’m open to suggestions and – better! – actual identification!

Thank you!

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Over the Hills

I am brain-tired tonight and can’t figure out how to insert a slide show of pictures, so you’ll have to click on this link: Webshots to view my photos.

We drove over the mountains to La Grande on Friday, stopping at Rowena Dell to hike and look at wildflowers. Sunday, on the way home, we stopped to look for morels. Mostly, we took photos.

About Rowena: When we first discovered this beautiful plateau, it was owned by the State of Oregon and was not part of the Tom McCall Preserve. Very few people parked at the overlook and fewer still hiked out on the trail up the ridge. We took our kids and dog out across the meadow, flew kites and picnicked (always careful: between poison oak, ticks and the possibility of rattlesnakes, one learns to tread softly).

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It’s a wind-blown site overlooking the Columbia River just east of The Dalles.

That was a very long time ago. The Nature Conservancy now owns this beautiful piece of land and hiking is restricted to the trails and no dogs are allowed. A lot of people park their cars at the overlook and wander up the trail: on Friday last, there was a steady stream of cars and hikers. It was hard to get any sweeping photos of the area without including a random hiker in the photo.

I can’t remember the last time Don & I stopped here. It was probably during our guide days, when we took people from our church on outdoor trips: I do remember taking a tour up in the old blue-and-white church bus and picnicking at the State Park on the Columbia River far below. Just stopping and enjoying the place on our own – that I can’t remember doing since the days when we could still fly kites out on the bluff.

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It is still as beautiful as ever, maybe more so since you can no longer walk out on the fragile flowers. The profusion of spring flowers is incredible.

We didn’t limit our weekend trip to Rowena. On our way home from La Grande, we pulled off on a Forest Service road atop Meacham Summit, hoping to find early morel mushrooms. The snow was still clinging to the ground in the shady spots  (a lot of cars were pulled off on the side of the road while mushroom pickers peeked and poked in hope).

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The glacier lilies and grass widows were blooming in profusion. But there were no morels. So we headed on west.

Out of Hermiston, we dropped down along the edge of the Columbia River. We kept seeing flowers along the median: purple, red, yellow. The red flowers were striking, but we were never in a good place to pull over and look to see what it was. But the other flowers… We pulled off on an access road so we could photograph the longleaf phlox and other flowers in bloom along the railroad right-of-way.

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Back on the road, we stayed true to I-84 until Hood River, when we turned south. We circled Mt Hood, heading toward our mushroom-hunting grounds (sorry, I can’t disclose our site, but it is located in the Mt. Hood National Forest).

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We didn’t hit a bonanza of morels, but we did find enough of the elusive little pine-cone shaped fungi to make dinner with.

Dipped the morels in eggs, rolled them in bread crumbs (or crushed Ritz crackers) and sautéed them in butter: yummy!!

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