Fens

Nature Notes by Dr. Frank Lang

I was botanizing in the Illinois Valley on a research project with colleagues. We were interested in the relationship between the purple and white-flowered form of the large-flowered bog lily. We collected leaves for chemical analysis, and buds and individual flowers for pollen to try to determine if the forms are really different species. These rare Illinois Valley endemics are known only from the California pitcher plant fens and streamsides on the west side of the valley from Deer Creek north of Eight Dollar Mountain, in the Josephine Creek drainage, south to Rough-and-Ready Creek.

We used to call the fens, bogs. Not anymore, except when accidentally slipping back into old, bad habits. These wetlands are fens by most definitions because the water’s pH is nearly neutral; that is, not very acid nor very basic. Bogs are acid. Fens are dominated by rushes, sedges and grasses. Bogs are dominated by sphagnum moss. Water flows year round through fens. Water stands in

These fens are a wonder, filled with fabulous plants, rare plants, unusual plants. There is always something interesting to see any time of year. In spring, the azaleas bloom in profusion around the fens’, filling the senses with color and scent. The pitcher plants bloom with hanging maroon and chartreuse flowers, which later turn upright as fruits form.

Pitcher plants form new bright green insect-trapping leaves after flowering, perhaps to avoid catching their own pollinators. About late July or August mostly yellow, with yellow bog asphodel, a lily family member, and the California cone flower, surely aSaturday Night Live favorite. Another interesting lily is western tolfieldia. Its densely glandular, sticky stem rises from a fan-like cluster of grass-like leaves Perhaps the sticky hairs deter pollen-stealing insects from sneaking up the flowering stalks. Perhaps the sticky hairs just amuse botanists.

Later in the summer watch for the brilliant blue flower; of the Waldo gentian. This rare plant is found mostly – in Illinois Valley fens and wet places and one place in California. The new Jepson Manual, the newest California flora, calls this species the Mendocino gentian. It occurs one place, Red Mountain Mendocino County, California, and all over the Illinois Valley in Oregon. I like Waldo gentian best.

Stop by the fens along Eight Dollar Road south of Selma for a real natural treat. These fens, these natural treasures, are a sustainable resource if you just look or photograph. Please don’t try to take plants for your garden.

Our Hastingsia investigations have not been without their hazards, both natural and human. There was the single button rattlesnake that didn’t rattle nor bite and the rattle-less tick that bit. I just know there are good people in the Illinois Valley. However, we have had distributors stolen, cars vandalized, and have been inadvertently shot at by nervous neighbors warning off another interloper on public land. David Douglas had to put up with natural hazards and irate Native Americans, we, with boobs, ninnies, yahoos and adle-brained nincompoops. What won’t we do in the name of science?

— Dr. Frank Lang

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