Each solstice brings with it a change of the season, a slowing down in nature’s landscape, while the equinoxes are periods of rapid change. The passage of the sun is the driver, changing day length slowly around a solstice. The seasonal extremes trail the sun’s lead because the oceans change temperature more slowly than the day length changes. Oceans are still warming up after the summer solstice has passed.
With the peak of flowering in the valley coming to a close, flower and butterfly watchers will seek meadows in the mountains. Ridgetop rocky slopes and grassy openings are where the greatest diversity of wildflowers and wildlife are sought. What we see in these places today is different from how the mountain meadows looked a century ago, when huge flocks of sheep and goats were pastured in the high Cascades. In eastern Oregon, many of the great meadows are still recovering a century since over grazing ended.
The greatest loss of grassland ecosystems, however, has taken place in the Willamette Valley. Almost all the upland grasslands have been converted to agriculture with great loss of native flora. Most Willamette Valley grassland preserves are wet prairies with standing water in winter.
Some of the best representations of upland grassland flora are now found on roadsides and the strips of land between fields. Flowering plants that were once abundant are crowded into these linear fragments. The field checker meadow and the endangered peacock larkspur are two species seen in roadside strips and rarely elsewhere.
David Wagner is a botanist who works in Eugene. He teaches moss classes, leads nature walks and makes nature calendars. He can be contacted through his website, fernzenmosses.com.