225 Miles Per Plant

Orobanche pinorumI guess it’s a sign of being a true plant nerd to take off on a day trip halfway across the state to look for one plant that may not even be in bloom.

There’s been a fair amount of chatter recently on the Native Plant Society of Oregon e-mail discussion list about sightings of Orobanche pinorum, pine broomrape. It’s one of the plants I missed finding in bloom while I was working on Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest so I wanted to find and photograph it. But I didn’t feel like driving down to southern Oregon to the places where this uncommon parasite had been reported. I checked the WTU Herbarium online records and found it reported in Yakima and Klickitat Counties in Wasington. Then I queried the Washington Native Plant Society e-mail list and received a response saying it was just east of the Cascades near Leavenworth. The herbarium records said plants in bud in July and gone to seed in September. The third week of August seemed possible to find it in bloom.

Sunday Natalie and I hopped in the truck and zipped over Stevens Pass to Fish Lake, just up the road from Lake Wenatchee. We parked at the Cove resort and started poking around under every ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor) we could find. That’s the host plant for the misnamed pine broomrape. After about half an hour of searching I found the specimen in the photo. It was just off a small trail along the south side of the lake, about at the drip line of a small ocean spray. There were ponderosa pines towering overhead.

As you can see, we were about three weeks too late to catch it in bloom. It’s still an interesting plant, and now that I know at least one place where it grows I can go back earlier in the season another year.

Since we were already east of the mountains I thought it worthwhile to go looking for another uncommon plant I’d missed in a previous year.

Petrophyton cinerascensThis time we were looking for a plant that is truly rare and endemic. Chelan rockmat, Petrophyton cinerascens, is only found on the cliffs along a 17-mile stretch of the Columbia River north of Wenatchee. A friend in the area had told me where to find it, but I had to call him again to confirm the directions after Natalie and I scoured several likely cliffs with binoculars to no avail.

Chelan rockmat is appropriately named as it clings to the nearly vertical rock face with its roots tucked into cracks and crevises. The foliage forms a low gray-green mat. It blooms late in the summer, and was just coming into bloom on our trip. Each individual flower is tiny, but the clusters of blossoms are fairly showy. You can get more details about the plant in the DNR Rare Plant Guide.

Since Chelan rockmat grows on cliffs, I found myself scrambling up loose scree to get to specimens that were in bloom. It was a bit of a precarious perch and I had to be cautious moving around to frame new ways of looking at the subject. I sure didn’t want to slip and come crashing down, potentially damaging my subject as well as myself and my gear.

Washington has two species of Petrophyton, both of them rare and endemic. The other is Olympic Mountain rockmat, P. hendersonii. I’ve seen and photographed it on Klahane Ridge. See Olympic Mountain rockmat on my Pacific Northwest Wildflowers website. It has a similar growth habit to the Chelan species. I had gotten curious about the genus about a year ago when Panayoti Kelaidis wrote about Recondite Plants on his Denver Botanic Gardens blog. Oh yes, the genus is sometimes spelled Petrophyton and sometimes Petrophytum just to make things confusing.

So, about the title of today’s post. It was 450 miles round trip to find and photograph two plants. We left Bellingham at 8:15 in the morning and didn’t get home until 9:30 in the evening. With all the traffic we saw heading west over Stevens, we decided to take the scenic route home. We continued north on Alt-97 through Chelan to Pateros, then west to connect with Hwy 20 through Twisp and Winthrop, over Washington Pass, and down the Skagit. We stopped for dinner in Winthrop. The roadside wildflowers were mostly finished blooming, but the fall color hasn’t started yet. It is still summer after all.

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7 thoughts on “225 Miles Per Plant

  1. I’m often conflicted about traveling long distances in search of plants (I don’t do birds much). Does the educational value of the images I create balance out the fuel used? Philosophically I’d like to be 100% muscle powered but there are some very real practical limitations.

  2. Karl Anderson on said:


    As far as I’m concerned, your success at capturing the ephemeral beauty of our native flora far outweighs the impact of your travels. You’re excused from guilt.


  3. Anita Toth Simpson on said:

    Ah, the “scenic route”. My husband and mother hate to hear me use that phrase. It translates into “two hours late”. I confess I don’t so it as much because of the price of fuel. I’m glad you found your flowers.

  4. Wayne Weber on said:

    Janka is right! I’ve been a birder for decades, and many birders think nothing of making a 400 to 500 mile return trip (often known as blitzing) to see a single bird, but I don’t know too many botanists who will do this to see a rare plant in bloom.

    By the way, I did get to see Chelan rockmat last June near the Rocky Reach dam, while on a Washington Native Plant Society field trip with Janka and her husband. However, it wasn’t in bloom, so I still don’t have a photo of that species in flower.

  5. Tanya Harvey on said:

    Great story. I totally relate. And I also understand the conflict about driving so much. I just try to do as much as possible while I’m out. Better plant mileage!