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Nature Notes From Crater Lake

Volume 12, October 1946


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Floral Life Zone on the Phantom Ship
By William E. Bush, Ranger-Naturalist

Among the scenic attractions at Crater Lake, few excel in popular appeal or give rise to greater exercise of creative imagination than the small island known as the Phantom Ship. This rugged little island with its spires of andesite, is generally considered to be no more than a picturesque old rock, furnishing appealing subject for those who would use it as vehicle for their contemplations in fantasy by way of mind, palette, or film. Actually, time is fashioning a biological unit on the island; the usual sequences and consequences of nature are molding discernible, competitive boundaries and patterns of adaptation upon its rugged surface.

Physically, the Phantom Ship is a remaining section of the filled conduit of a fissure from which probably poured many of the lower layers of lava constituting Dutton Cliff. Its rocks of pyroxene andesite have in many places been altered by hydrothermal activity. Quartz filled seems give the rock a character uncommon to most of the rocks generally found on the crater walls. The island is about 500 feet long and reaches a maximum width of 200 feet near the east end. Its east-west ridge of spires, towering 170 feet above the water, sharply divides most of the island into two slopes, one very steeply sloping to the south and the other less steeply to the north. The island is separated from the mainland by a shallow channel about 200 feet wide. Above this channel, Dutton Cliff rises abruptly, constituting one of the highest sections of the south-west wall of the caldera.

Observations noted herein were made during two visits to the island on August 8 and August 19, 1946. Some hours were spent in perusal of the situation as it existed, but the plant tally was made on the second visit only. The listings are not to be considered as complete and certainly it will be worthwhile to make additions and corrections as subsequent observations suggest.

The accompanying sketch illustrates roughly the bio-geographic layout of the island. The west end of the island is made up of tall spires which rise vertically; a limited talus at the water's edge is all that lies between the spires and the water. In this region, few plants have gained a foothold and the area must be essentially classified as barren.

The remainder of the island is divided into two slopes which show a definite segregation of species. White bark pine grows on both slopes in nearly equal areal density, though it appears to be much more in its element on the north side.

The South Slope - The south and southeast slopes of the island, while undoubtedly subjected to great extremes of temperature, are predominantly a warm section. Three ponderosa pine live a stinted existence in this region. The largest one is 35 or 40 feet high and 56 inches in circumference, three feet above the root spread. On this slope are four western white pines, the largest of which is 34 inches in diameter; it is broken off 20 feet above the ground and a crown of new growth doubles that height. High on the east end is a taller one 60 feet high and 25 inches in diameter; it bears an old lightning scar, now nearly healed. These trees are bearing a good crop of cones this year. The ponderosa pine cones are smaller than normal.

A considerable coverage of green manzanita (A. patula) grows just below the spiring ridge that separates the island into two parts; it continues to the water's edge. All of this presents a clear cut transition situation. However, in addition to this there is considerable mat manzanita (A. nevadensis), and an intermixture of small white-bark pines. In a few cases there may be confusion between P. albicaulis and P. monticola, but most of the trees were bearing cones and no mistake was possible.

The complete absence of lodgepole pine or alpine fir seems surprising, but may probably be explained by the dearth of water-stabilized soil or duff. It was also noted that not one specimen of either red fir or hemlock was found on this slope.

The North Slope - The north slope is less steep than the south; it presents some areas with a soil of erosional debris and duff. On this slope are growing trees typical of the lower Hudsonian Zone. Shasta red fir exist in considerable areal density, but are small for the specie, while mountain hemlock grow in about the same stand density, but the mature trees, though small, are apparently in good condition. The white bark pine on this slope are normal and of good size. The total number of trees (a foot or more high) is 66 while the south slope supports only 28.

High, near the east end of the north slope, is one specimen of white fir about 30 inches high. It appears to be in good condition and should subsequently be checked for its existence and growth. It apparently is the only one on the island.

At the foot of this slope there is a flat talus which is supporting a number of herbaceous plants typical of shady, moist localities; including shield fern, meadow rue, Jacob's ladder, and bleeding heart. The distribution of herbaceous plants and shrubs is apparently controlled by localized circumstances and zonal distribution is far from obvious. The appended list of the plants observed gives their general location.

Among the unlisted, but not unnoticed flora are the brilliantly colored yellow, red, and orange lichens which cover the vertical walls of the towering spires. Occasional single plants of grass are to be seen near the water's edge. No attempt at identification of these was made.

Animal life observed consisted of birds, obviously transient. There were two Clark's crows and three Sparrow Hawks but no other birds were observed. On the first visit, one golden mantled ground squirrel was seen on the talus at the east end. None was seen on the second visit. No traces of other animals were noted, but the writer does not profess to be a skilled observer of such evidences.

Some evidence of human trespass were evident. Recent foot marks on the upper level soils, a film carton, three paper plates, a paper drinking cup, a rusty beer can, and several pieces of orange peel gave evidence that human influence cannot be overlooked.

From 1910 to 1940, the level of the lake has been dropping; this year the lake level is three feet higher than at comparable season in 1940. Evidence of this rise of level is to be noted in the fact that several shrubs, probably willows, have been destroyed by the rising water and their roots and stems are now a foot or more beneath the surface. A half dozen such plant remains were observed.

Thus the island gives rise to two rather clearly defined life zones, namely a hybrid sort of transition on the one side and a definite Hudsonian on the other. A total of about 94 forest trees, including six species, and 32 species of ground plants were observed to be growing on the Phantom Ship.

The following forest trees large enough to be considered as firmly established (a foot or more high) have been noted:

Tree Typical Zone South Side North Side Total No.
Pinus ponderosa Dougl. Transition 3 0 3
Pinus monticola Dougl. Upper Transition
to Canadian
4 2 6
Pinus albicaulis Englem. Hudsonian 21 29 50
Abies concolor Lindl. Transition 0 1 1
Abies magnifica shastensis Lemmon. Canadian to
0 17 17
Tsuga mertensiana (Bong.) Sargent. Hudsonian 0
28 66 94

Ground Plants Common Name Occurrence
Filix fragilis (L) Gilib. Brittle Fern Few (2 or 3) seen.
Polystichum scopulim (D.C. Eaton) Maxon. Shield Fern Two on North side near water level.
Smilacina amplexicaulis glaber Macbride. False Solomon Common.
Salix lasiandra abramsii Ball. Abrams Willow One small plant on south side (8 feet).
Salix orestera Schneider Sierra Willow One plant on south side.
Thalictrum sparsiforum Turcz. Meadow Rue Common on north side near water level.
Actaea spicata arguta (Nutt.) Torr. Baneberry One plant on north side.
Dicentra formosa (Andr.) DC Bleeding Heart Common at lower levels.
Arabis (specie) ---- East end near water.
Ribes cereum Dougl. Waxy Current Common.
Ribes lacustre (Pors.) Poir. Prickly Currant Common.
Mitella breweri Gray. ---- Common on north side.
Holodiscus glabrascens (Greenman) Heller. ---- Common.
Sorbus cascadensis G. N. Jones Mountain Ash One plant on NE end.
Amalanchier florida Lindl. Service Berry Most common shrub.
Lupinus andersonii Watson. Lupine Occasional on SE end.
Epilobium glaberrimum Barbey. Willow Herb Common on north side.
Pyrola picta Smith. White Veined Pyrola One plant, north side.
Pyrola secunda L. One-sided Pyrola One plant, with P. picta
Arctostaphylos patula Greene. Green Manzanita Considerable on south side.
Arctostaphylos nevadensis Gray. Mat Manzanita Common on south side.
Polemonium shastense Eastwood. Jacob's Ladder Several plants in rock crevices on north side.
Phacelia heterophyla Pursh. ---- Common.
Penstemon menziesii davidsoni (Greene) Piper. Pride of the Mountain Common.
Penstemon rupicola Howell. ---- Common.
Castilleja miniata Dougl. Paint Brush Common.
Anaphalis margaritacea (L.) Benth and Hook. Everlasting Common on east side.
Taraxacum palustre vulgare (Lam.) Fernald. Dandelion Several near water's edge on east end.
Chrysothamnus nauseosus speciosus (Nutt.) Hall. ---- Common on east end.
Antennaria geyeri Gray. ---- Several on east and near water level.
Eupatorium occidentale Hook. Western Boneset Common.
Hieracium albiflorum Hook. Hawkweed A few on east end.

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Perception of Nature leads to Knowledge;
Knowledge, to Understanding, Interest, Love.

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