Saturday, May 5, 2012

Spring Blooms at Camassia Natural Area: Part I

Common Camas lily and Rosy plectritis
One of the many reasons the Portland metro area is such a special place, is its knack for preserving healthy, natural habitat in close proximity to urban (and suburban) areas.  Camassia Natural Area in West Linn is a perfect example.  Mere steps away from the heavy traffic of Interstate 205 - as it crosses the bluff between West Linn and Oregon City - this beautiful, 27 acre parcel protects habitats ranging from wooded wetland, to open prairie, and the increasingly rare Oregon white oak savanna.  A fragile stronghold of rare plants and diverse wildlife species - Camassia is a truly wonderful place to experience the Nature of Portland.

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 Camassia Natural Area was the first preserve to be purchased and protected by The Nature Conservancy in Oregon (in 1962).  It's named after the common camas lily (Camassia quamash) which blooms heavily here every spring, alongside other wildflowers like Rosy plectritis (or Sea Blush - Plectritis congesta), Trilliums (Trillium chloropetalum, and T. ovatum), Fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) and many more.  Since acquiring this special place, The Nature Conservancy staff and volunteers have worked to protect the area from the threats of encroaching development, which include invasive species, altered hydrology, and fire suppression.  Because the area no longer undergoes the periodic renewal by fire, Douglas-fir trees creep from the edges of the woodlands into the more open oak savanna.  In those areas, the Douglas-fir are removed, allowing the Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) and Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana - sometimes called Garry oak) to continue providing the perfect mix of sun and shade for the meadow wildflowers.

The unique terrain at Camassia - like terrain everywhere - owes its existence to ancient history.  Between about 17 and 6 million years ago, a series of lava flows covered northern Oregon, eastern Washington, and western Idaho, creating a deep layer of basalt rock.  Fast forward to the end of the last ice age (12,000 - 15,000 years ago) - a time when the continental ice sheet created dams and huge lakes along the Idaho-Montana border.  Those dams would periodically give way, causing catastrophic floods that scoured soil and rock from eastern Washington, carved the Columbia Gorge, and deposited soil and glacial erratic boulders in the Willamette Valley.  Those same floods stripped the soil from some areas of Camassia, creating the underlying structure for the shallow-soiled, rocky meadows and hollowed-out, wooded wetlands you can see today.

I've been meaning to visit Camassia during the peak bloom of the camas lilies (late April - early May) for a couple of years now, but didn't make my first visit until just this year.  I hiked the loop three weekends in a row - starting the weekend of April 14th - to be sure to catch the meadows at their colorful best.

Entrance to the park, at the end of Walnut Street in West Linn
There is a small gravel parking lot at the end of Walnut Street in West Linn.  Oh - and as with most nature parks in the Portland area, no dogs are allowed.  This is to protect the habitat and the wildlife that uses it.

See my pictures below, and to find out more about the park, you can go to The Intertwine, or The Nature Conservancy's website(Click here for driving directions.)

The trails in the park are well marked - even when the "trail" is not a boardwalk like the one below.  Please stay on the trails to protect the delicate habitat (and avoid the poison oak!).

boardwalk through the woodland

Western sword fern (Polystichum munitum) unfurling
 One of the hollowed-out, wooded wetlands is near the center of the park. 

Lots of Trillium and Fawn lilies along the trail to the wetland.


Fawn lily
 I love the mottled pattern on the leaves of the Fawn lily - it reminds me of light reflecting off a water surface.

Trilliums and sword ferns
There are at least seven Trilliums hiding among the sword ferns in the photo above.

Oak galls

Saskatoon serviceberry
Miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)

Miner's Lettuce is a native, edible plant - whether it's the "true" Miner's Lettuce (above), or Western Spring Beauty (below) which is also called Siberian Miner's Lettuce.

Western Spring Beauty - Siberian Miner's lettuce (Claytonia siberica)
Yellow Violet, or Pioneer Violet (Viola glabella)
I believe the flowers in the photo above are a type of Bittercress - but if anyone knows for sure, please comment.  Unfortunately, I don't think the plant's leaves really show in the photo.

Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) growing with moss and Licorice fern

A tiny moss forest

Tall Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
Indian Hellebore (Veratrum viride)
Licorice Fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) on a mossy tree trunk
Gnarly, moss and lichen-covered Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana)

We thought the odd-looking oak limb above looked like Mr. Snuffleupagus.

Wow - that was a lot of pictures, and I haven't even made it to the Camas photos yet.  Let's continue the photo tour in Part II...

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