The Ross-Boge R. macrophyllum Expedition - 1987
Gales Creek, Oregon
Originally appeared in "The Rhody Runner," Tualatin Valley Chapter newsletter
On May 14th, Bob Ross and I returned to the Detroit Lake area to check the condition of the Rhododendron macrophyllum growing there.
Our first stop was Boulder Ridge, home of many good clones. Near the top, we stopped at a population of white ground iris (Iris macrosiphon). Nestled among the iris were several purple anemone as well as a very small-leafed form of penstemon, as yet unidentified.
Not much further along we observed a strange object dangling by a string down a cut bank. We spent the next half hour retrieving a weather balloon radio, which was later mailed back to NOAH. It had been launched from Salem, Oregon on March 30th.
We stopped at the location of 86-4 to try and complete what we had abandoned last fall - relocating the plant. After another fruitless half-hour, we decided to wait until it came into bloom. Fortunately, the graft made with material from this plant is growing well. Continuing on, we went back to 85-27. We had brought along the necessary materials to do some air layering. Since grafting was working only fair and rooting not at all, we thought an additional means of propagating might be useful. We had tried ground layering with mixed success, if the ground was moist, it worked fairly well.
We located our quarry and while I walked back to the pickup to get the supplies, Bob went exploring. By the time I came back, he had located a completely spotless bloom. We marked the location to check later, since few of the buds were open.
After leaving Boulder Ridge, we headed for Rhody Flats. Parking near 85-4, we broke out lunch and walked over to see the rooting progress on 85-4. We air layered it. Its buds were just opening. We probably wouldn't get to see it in bloom, but we could at least get a flower count. After eating we went out to check on 84-1, our reddest find. It was well budded, but still not in bloom. Some apparent sister seedlings were blooming and looked quite interesting. We were anxious to get back in June to have another look at a promising bush not seen in bloom since 1984.
| R. macrophyllum, #84-1, this is the dark red plant that started it all.
Photo by Dallas Boge
On our way back down McCoy Creek Road, we took a side trip to check on 85-12 and 85-15. The latter is the same color as R. macrophyllum 'Seven Devils' with 3 inch flowers. The bush looks healthy, one of the ground layers is well rooted, the other is coming along. We made one air layer. Checking the ground layer done two years ago on 85-12,we found no roots. We re-scarred it and applied rooting hormone.
Since time was running short, we headed up logging road #2234. We found no roots on the ground layer on 86-6, so we wounded and treated it with hormone, as well as adding an air layer. One of the saddest things we saw was the poor condition of 86-7, 'Peppermint Candy'. It may not last the summer. None of our grafts of it took, probably due to its low state of vigor even last year. After checking on the seedling experiment at 86-15 (no seedlings yet), we stopped at Detroit Lake State Park and made our reservations for June.
Spring had come early, so the first day of June found Bob and I parking our trailer at Detroit Lake. We headed up Boulder Ridge Road to check on the blooming status of 85-27, not really expecting to find it in bloom. We were not disappointed, it was still in very tight bud.
Our next stop was at 85-4. Our interest was to see 84-1 in bloom. Its buds were just opening, so we left with the intention to return later in the week. We went next to 85-15, which was also in tight bud. Since there is an adjacent clearcut not previously explored, we decided to spend some time looking there. After a long walk through many average blooms, we found one with spotting that nearly merged into a blotch in the throat. It became 87-1.
After some further fruitless searching, we called it a day and returned to camp.
The next morning, we started up Cooper Ridge Road to continue searching an area that had proved bountiful the year before. We parked near 86-7 and sadly discovered that our earlier fears had come true. It was dead, We walked back towards Detroit and turned off to the right at the edge of an old clear cut. Near the edge of the road, we found 87-2, an average flower with golden brown spotting in the throat and reddish brown spotting toward the tips of the flower, extending halfway across the two adjacent lobes.
| R. macrophyllum, #87-2
Photo by Dallas Boge
Continuing on, we came into a clear cut with nearly perfect conditions for hunting the elusive R. macrophyllum. It had been cut four or five years before, giving the rhododendrons plenty of time to regrow to blooming size, while the replanted trees have been in the ground only a year or two and hardly show up at all. The overall effect is that of a randomly planted rhododendron garden. As the land sloped away from us quite rapidly, we could see the interesting color forms for quite a distance. Our next find was a reddish-purple one with more red and less purple than most others we had seen. Next we found a backwards flower, one which is white on the rim and pink in the throat, just the reverse of what one usually sees.
Wednesday morning came and we were expecting guests for the day. Several members of the study group were coming up to help add more eyes in pursuit of our wily quarry. We had decided to take another look at the north face of Boulder Ridge, which had not been properly searched. This area is big enough to absorb a large group without their tripping over each other.
Before our guests' scheduled arrival, we went back to check on 85-28 and 85-29. The first was not in bloom, it hadn't bloomed since 1985. Due to the crowding from second growth Douglas Fir, it probably won't bloom again until the area is harvested. Not far away, at the end of a short skid trail we had used many times, we found 87-5, a pale pink with spots that fuse into two red streaks in the throat. We did our collecting and left for the appointed rendezvous. We continued up Boulder Ridge Road to our meeting point and walked down to 85-24 and 85-25. They weren't in bloom and didn't have any buds, nor any spent blooms from last year. Apparently we saw them the one year that they bloomed. There is simply too much shade for them to bloom properly. We added two air layers on each and walked back to meet our group. While waiting, we wandered around looking in the lower flats of Boulder Ridge where the frost had wiped out the bloom two years before.
After the group's arrival, we headed up to the second bench on the north side of Boulder Ridge. Tucked away inside one of the plants and just starting to open was 87-6, a flower which matched #63B (RHS Colour Chart), just about as dark as 'Seven Devils' but with less blue. We spent the rest of the day looking at various locations but found nothing else worth collecting. This unfortunately included 84-1, the dark red that was largely responsible for our explorations. We finally saw it in full bloom after a three year wait and it had a rather anemic color (#64C).
On Wednesday, we noted that the clear cut across from 87-5 with several of the 85's was in full bloom and easily accessible, so we decided to spend the morning looking at what it had to offer. After working our way through the brush, we started seeing what, at a distance, seemed to be interesting blooms. Right in the bottom of the canyon, hanging over the stream we found 87-7, the reddest (#57C) that we had seen. A little further along, we found 87-8, a flower with a rosy rim, fading to light pink without any spots. This is probably the best spotless clone we have found. Working slowly down the hill, I spotted what looked like a dark bloom across the canyon and part way up the other side.
Ross' Rule states that any red flower seen at a distance will turn light pink by the time one arrives at its location and a corollary states that a white flower seen at a distance also turns to an ordinary pink by the time one gets close enough for a good look. A third part of the rule states that the size of a truss is proportional to one's distance from it. It is also axiomatic that the exception proves the rule and that was the case with this one which became 87-9. It has 15-2½" flowers that are #64B and the bush is quite free flowering.
We then went back to the base of Boulder Ridge and took a second look at the flower we had marked, but not collected, the day before. It was a pale pink flower with golden spots extending toward the throat, surrounded by brownish red spots extending around to the middle of the two lobes adjacent to the central lobe. It became 87-10.
While I finished recording 87-10, Bob moved east and found another flower with a different spotting arrangement. This one had two orange brown eyes at the central lobe and medium brown spotting extending outward. At the same time the middle of the central lobe was without spots of any kind. Since this was the first we had seen with any hint of orange, it became 87-11.
Our last day of the third and final year of our project had us wondering where to look next. We had passed a clear cut about a mile down from Boulder Ridge many times without looking at it, so this was to be the day to give it a look. We headed out the logging road to the end and struck off down the slope toward a stream at the bottom of the hill. Part way down the slope, we found a large flowered average pink with nice ruffles around its edges. This one became 87-12 and the last we were to collect. We wandered for several more hours seeing many nice blooms and colors, but we had seen and collected most of them before. After driving up several more roads that yielded no fruit, we returned to Detroit Lake and packed for home.
Return Visit - July
July 23rd saw Bob and I return to collect cuttings of the plants we had marked earlier in the year. In the past, we had collected cuttings at the same time as our week-long annual expedition, but they were not in the best of condition for grafting or rooting.
Our first stop was up Cooper Ridge Road near the spot where we had had so much good hunting the year before. We had marked three plants fairly close together. Arriving at the first one, 87-2, we noted that it had set no seed, although in every other respect, the plant looked very good. (The area had received an un-customarily heavy rain not long before and most all the vegetation looked good.) After a short but steep hike (87-4 is about ¼ mile from and 350 feet below 87-2), we went back to the pickup and drove up the road. We stopped at 86-6 and collected a few cuttings and ground layered several shoots that had just come up from the roots.
| R. macrophyllum, #87-4
Photo by Dallas Boge
We decided to go up a little side road we'd discovered earlier in the year. At its end, a logging landing, R. macrophyllum and R. albiflorum each grow in great profusion and apparently bloom simultaneously. Unfortunately, that time had been several weeks earlier, for all we saw were a very few scattered flowers on R. albiflorum. The elevation here is 4800' and R. macrophyllum shows no signs of ending. A future project is to return and see how much higher it grows.
Earlier we had seen much Penstemon cardwellii in bloom. It was almost finished, with only a scattered bloom here and there. But to our great delight, another penstemon species, as yet unidentified, was in full bloom. Since each plant of it was a little different, we spent some time collecting cuttings of the various color forms. We also found some very nice mimulus and gilias blooming. Returning down the same road to a rock quarry, we looked up on the bank and saw the same penstemon we had collected growing in wild abandon. We scrambled around on the hillside and collected several more nice color forms, mostly lighter than the ones previously seen.
After finishing lunch, we went down the road and back up Boulder Ridge Road. We were after 87-12, the last form collected and probably one of the hardest to find, since it was sitting in the midst of a large clear cut which had been replanted about 15 years earlier. The trees averaged over ten feet tall, making spotting our plant difficult until we were right on top of it. We did find it and as it was getting late, we sped on up to the site of our next four finds. Here we knew where every one was located, so finding them was easy, just a little unpleasant due to the constantly rising temperature.
Our next to last stop was at the base of Boulder Ridge where we had found three selections quite close together. After a little problem finding one of them, we collected all three and went off to re-collect 87-1. Arriving there, it was immediately evident that a recent hailstorm had worked its magic on the resident plants. Leaves and needles littered the ground. Hardest hit were the pines and fireweed, being almost completely defoliated. Most of the Douglas Fir had lost the top of their new leaders, thus losing their terminal buds, as well as the internodal buds. This will cause them to grow in unpredictable ways. Much to our distress, our one air layer on 87-1 had been rendered worthless by the hail. Since we hadn't brought our air layering kit with us, we would have to correct the problem when we returned to collect seed.
We had a little daylight left, so we went back to "Albiflorum Land." We wanted to see if we could find any interesting color forms of Penstemon cardwellii, which grows in great profusion nearby. On our first visit, it was not yet in bloom. As luck would have it, it had already bloomed out. Returning down the road to a rocky outcropping where we had enjoyed looking at a diversity of species, we stopped. We found a trumpet-shaped orange gilia in bloom, along with another species of penstemon. It featured a grayish foliage which tended to hug the ground and a foot high flower stalk still in bloom with small blue flowers. It's another of quite a number of penstemon species that we have not yet identified. As it was quite late, we reluctantly headed for home.
Return Visit — September
On our last trip to collect cuttings, Bob and I had noted that the seed was ripening faster than normal. We decided to return in early September to collect the rather prodigious amount of seed that most of our plants produced. Our respective schedules made September 10th the best for each of us.
Our last trip to collect cuttings had proved efficient in the use of our time and gasoline, so we repeated it this time. Our first stop was at 87-2, which had bloomed a little and set almost no seed. After we collected this, we turned down the hill to collect seed from 87-3 and 87-4, both of which bloomed well and set much seed. Returning to the road, we went the quarter mile to the parking spot adjacent to many of our 1986 finds. We descended the hill and collected seed from 86-15 and 86-16. We found 86-17 and 86-18 had set no seed, 86-17 had set a few buds, 87-18 none at all.
We went up the road another quarter mile and collected seed from 86-10, which had a good bud set for next year. While there, we went upstream a little further and collected seed from the Santiam Lily, Lilium washingtonianum. The seed is one of the favorite foods of the native wildlife, so the only place one finds seedpods intact is where the deer and bear cannot go. Those places are more than a little difficult for humans as well, but we have the ability to use other native plants as ropes to pull ourselves up the slopes where the few pods reside.
Crossing the stream and proceeding toward the pickup, we found a large population of foxglove, Digitalis purpurea. We collected a large amount of seed. One handy way to collect this and other seed is to bend the stalk over and stick the end into a cleaned out 44-oz. soft drink container. These are free (after emptying them) and easily cleaned for reuse. They come with a reusable lid that will keep the seed where it belongs until it can be transferred to another container.
We left Cooper Ridge and went back to the McCoy Creek drainage. Finding 87-1 proved to be a challenge, but we eventually did. The seed collected, we left for Albiflorum Land for lunch. This is one of our favorite places to eat. The scenery is grand and it is very quiet. The road had been blocked with a mound of earth by the Forest Service, but by now many others had driven over it and we did the same. There was not a heavy seed set this year, we collected what there was.
Crossing over to Boulder Ridge, we bypassed 87-12 and went back up near the base of Boulder Ridge. We first picked seed of 87-8 and 87-9, them drove up further to collect 87-5 and 87-7. We then finished the last mile to Boulder Ridge and collected seed from 87-6, 87-10 and 87-11. As the hour was late, we headed for home, not having time to collect 87-12.
The exploration phase of our three year ARS Research Foundation grant project is over. We will not be returning to the mountains for a week each year. We will not be enjoying the beauty of some new and spectacular R. macrophyllum clone, not to mention the rare beauty of all the companion plants. We will return from time to time to re-collect those clones that do not root the first time and probably to collect seed for the ARS seed exchange, if there is continued demand for it. We will continue to wonder what else we might have found if we had just gone up that road or this trail instead of the one we took.
The Ross-Boge Rhododendron macrophyllum Expedition - First Year appeared in the ARS Journal, Vol.40:2 (Spring 1986); Second Year, Vol.41:2 (Spring 1987).