Mystery Flora: Purple Mountain Majestie

Note to readers: if you’re anywhere near Corvallis in July, get thee to Marys Peak and prepare to spend several hours blissing out over the flowers. Ye gods. No wonder it got designated a scenic botanical area. If it wasn’t for all the fabulous geology, I would have spent my entire time up there chasing wildflowers and butterflies. I very nearly didn’t come down.

Looking back on it, I’m tempted to go back. If you succumb to temptation, here’s roughly where you need to go. Drive up Marys Peak Rd. until you come to a meadow. Pull over and indulge. But don’t linger there all day – there’s another meadow at the top.

This particular meadow is full of some of the strangest flowers I’ve ever seen.

Mystery Flora I

How’s that for neato, eh? You know I made a beeline to them: they’re purple and they’re weird, two of my favorite things in the universe.

The broad leaves you’re seeing in the photo belong to something else. Here’s a view that shows the whole plant:

Mystery Flora II

Itty bitty leaves and a great big flower. I realize I don’t have anything in any of my photos for scale – I really need to start doing that even with flowers. These, to the best of my recollection, were about the diameter of a quarter, so they’re not quite huge, but still largeish as far as wildflowers go. They were tall enough to poke up through the surrounding vegetation – maybe a bit less than a foot.

Mystery Flora III

And they’re hairy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite such a pelt on petals before. I’m sure there’s a nifty evolutionary reason for it, but I’ll be buggered if I know what that is. Once you lot have identified it, we can discuss why it’s so fuzzy.

Mystery Flower IV

They liked the meadow, but they seemed to love the banks by the road, too.

Mystery Flora V

And, while I most often was seeing single blooms, there were quite a few in little bunches. Delightful!

This is one of those things, outside of the geology, that I love the most about the Pacific Northwest. From early spring to late fall, a procession of flowers livens up the place, and some of them are pretty wacky. I can forgive beauties like these for obscuring the geology.

Mystery Flora: Purple Mountain Majestie

6 thoughts on “Mystery Flora: Purple Mountain Majestie

  1. 1

    What a lovely flower. It is a member of the lily family.
    Here is some info from the wiki page.

    Calochortus tolmiei is a species of flowering plant in the lily family known by the common names Tolmie star-tulip and pussy ears. It is native to the west coast of the United States from Washington to California

    Thanks for the great photos.

  2. rq

    That’s what happens when I spend an extra hour outside, someone beats me to the identification. :)
    I found some interesting ‘information’ about Calochortus here:

    and more about the genus here:

    Stunning flowers, and I have to admit I’d never seen these ones before. But then, I’m not from the west coast of anything at all and the Pacific is a strange ocean to me, never mind anything below the 45th parallel. I love the simple, triplet elegance.
    As for the hairy, well, it depends on what kinds of pollinators it has – if I remember correctly, hairy + purple + shape = bees, and there might even be a specific species that it targets. The hairs are for rubbing the pollen from other flowers off the bees’ knees and onto its own reproductive organs. Also to keep the insect longer in its grasp – by the time it navigates in and out of the flower, it’ll have dropped a fair amount of gametes, thus improving the flower’s chances of gene exchange / pollenization. It probably isn’t enough to self-pollenate for this one. (Other times flowers may be hairy is if they’re insectivorous, but I don’t know of any insectivorous lilies, so my money’s on the pollenation game.)

  3. rq

    PS Apparently there’s a slew of endemic species in your area. Maybe next time you’re out and about, you can keep an eye out for a different species… If the rocks aren’t too distracting, of course.
    When do we get more of those? :)

  4. 4

    Those were all over the place I lived when I was little. We called them cat’s ears! Very cool flowers, yes.

    If you want to visit another amazing OR biome in the future, do check out Eight Dollar Mountain in the southern part of the state. Visit in the right season and you’ll find a rather unique pitcher plant. Rock formations also quite interesting. Deep veins of green serpentine rock on cliff sides along the flanking river, and when I was a kid, we’d collect what I assume were little iron pebbles from the ground by dragging around magnets on string. Jars of them! Right off the ground!

  5. rq

    That sounds like fun. We just had the old mica quarries to not fall into, but they had piles and piles of dug-up rocks like quartz and apatite and granite (?? it was salmony pink and there was lots) right beside the old pits.

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