Festival blooms in Jacksonville
April 7, 2005
By SANNE SPECHT
|Hikers stop to admire a rare Gentner’s fritillary growing along a trail in the Jacksonville Woodlands above the Britt Festivals grounds.
Mail Tribune / Jim Craven
Father Time waits for no man. Neither does Mother Nature, say organizers of the town’s first Fritillaria Festival.
Hopes that the festival’s star performer, the rare Fritillaria gentneri (Gentner’s fritillary), would coordinate its peak blooming period with the 12th annual Rich Gulch Hike-A-Thon on April 23 are wilting as the red lily bells already splash the hillw with color.
“The warm weather of February pushed the normal blooming time forward by two weeks,” says Jacksonville Woodlands Association President Larry Smith.
For now, Smith urges lily lovers to join him at the upper Britt parking lot for a guided half-hour, scent-filled wildflower stroll at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.
“We want people to come see this,” says Smith. “And the sooner the better.”
A Tuesday afternoon stroll along some of the association’s nine miles of trails provides Chamber of Commerce President Terri Gieg with her first glimpse of the deep scarlet flowers with the bright yellow-orange polka-dots nestling amid fields of blue hound’s tongue, yellow buttercups and purple shooting stars.
“Ooh! Look there! That’s it,” cries Gieg.
Pulling her spangled lacy pancho aside, Gieg stretches her bejeweled fingers toward the delicate blossoms.
“Oh wow,” she breathes.
Smith, attired in casual khakis, is amused at Gieg’s ensemble — and reaction to the rare flower.
“This (Fritillaria Festival) was your idea,” he says. “And you’d never even seen one.”
Gieg admits that is true.
“It was my idea to have the Fritillaria Festival,” she says. “But I didn’t know what a fritillaria looked like.”
Organizers aren’t sure what an annual Fritillaria Festival looks like yet, either. This year they’re hoping the name will encourage visitors to hike the woodlands to see the flower and tour the town.
Gieg came upon the idea after looking for a theme to replace the town’s now-defunct Chinese New Year’s Celebration. She decided the best option was to stage a new event around the rare flower.
Named after the Gentner family who discovered it in 1944, the lily was put on the federal endangered species list in 1999.
Found only in isolated populations in Southern Oregon, the lily’s largest concentration is in the native oak woodlands surrounding Jacksonville. More than 320 acres of lily habitat have been set aside for public use, many located in the woodlands.
As the group walked along the beginning of Rich Gulch Trail, Smith pointed out the Fritillaria gentneri and the Fritillaria recurva — a more common cousin with a shorter, bright solid-red bell and a deeper curl to the petals’ tips. Both types can have between two to 13 bells, he says.
The lilies tend to grow in clusters within small stands of oaks — and shiny red poison oak shoots.
“They like to nestle between the trunks,” said Smith. “The poison oak protects them from deer.”
Oregon State University recently planted 4,000 bulbs in the Jacksonville Cemetery which were propagated from wild local stock.
“They took a handful up,” says Smith. “And they brought us back 4,000.”
Smith tells the group he has many of the 2- to 3-foot- tall lilies blooming at his house, thanks to a truckload of fritillaria-laden fill dirt he had deposited years ago.
“Eventually, we went from zero to 54,” says Smith.
Like Smith’s personal tour, Jacksonville’s festival is expected to grow from virtually nothing to a splendid display, organizers say. But this year is dedicated to getting the word out, says Smith.
“We’re still feeling our way,” says Smith. “I had a guy call me and ask where he could put his booth. I told him it’s not that kind of festival.”
Next year, in addition to the hillsides’ natural display, there will be bike rides, bud-bearing bonnets and more banners.
“And we’ll have to put up signs that say, ‘No Touch’ to keep people from picking them,” says Gieg.