Great Basin Butterflies

By SFI butterflies instructor Dana Ross A visit to Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert is always worth the time and effort. This past July, I taught a new 3-day course for the Siskiyou Field Institute (SFI) on the butterflies of the region based at Malheur Field Station. DAY ONE. On Friday afternoon, we gathered … Read more

Early in the Field

Spring is about to awaken at Siskiyou Field Institute. While young students are learning about our watershed at Mt. Ashland SnowSchool, preparations are under way for spring Outdoor School. I In our forest, Pseudotrillium rivale will soon peek from under dead oak and madrone leaves and California goldfields (Lasthenia californica) will splash the serpentine rock … Read more

Artful Butterflies and Moths by Goly Ostovar

I look forward to the Butterflies of the Siskiyou Region workshop each year, It is a fun way to learn about butterflies and moths at a comfortable pace, and spend time with friends and people who appreciate nature and enjoy learning.   In this three-day course we started with an overview of butterfly-moth life cycles, saw some slides and then went … Read more

Crash Course in Flowering Plant Families



By Emily Ferrell

I pulled into the SFI parking lot late, the full moon bathing the grounds in a crisp, white glow. No headlamp needed as I quickly set up a barebones cowboy camp, eager to begin the next morning with a fully rested brain.  Once nestled into my sleeping bag I noticed my relief and excitement at finally being here. I was finally taking the time to get down to the nitty gritty details of my favorite subject—the vast and mysterious kingdom of plants.

Although plants have always been an integral part of my life, a new job as Noxious Weeds Program Coordinator for a local restoration council challenges me to understand the immensely diverse floral communities of the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion and how invasive species impact these rare ecosystems.  Having never seriously pursued plant taxonomy courses in school, attending a three day crash course that emphasized native species seemed like a no-brainer.  Thankfully my council’s directors had agreed, and I was allowed to miss a couple days of work to attend.  Under the protection of a majestic incense cedar, I prayed to the moon that the Crash Course in the Flowering Plant Families would give me the support, structure, and confidence needed to tackle the daunting task of learning plants in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.

Just then a large fox pranced into the clearing, its elegant curves silhouetted sharply by the moonlight.

Class began at 8:30 the next morning. Tables were set up with microscopes and handouts, and students had their mammoth Jepson manuals ready to go.  We were a friendly, unassuming bunch, ranging from millenials to retirees, all ready to get serious about this passion for plants we’d been harboring for years.  Our backgrounds in botany varied widely, from agency workers who work in the field on a regular basis, to a retirement-age couple from New Hampshire traveling the country seeking out wild orchids, to a college botany instructor searching for ideas for teaching her own classes.

Our teacher, Linda Vorobik, took notes as everyone introduced themselves, and then filled us in on her interesting life as a  botanical taxonomist and accomplished artist with encyclopedic knowledge of native plants from most west coast bioregions, including those of the diverse Klamath-Siskiyou and Sierra Nevada ranges.  Open, gracious, energetic, clear, attentive and the most importantly, hilarious, Linda lit the path and we joyfully followed.  She provided three informational handouts and a schedule outlining the basic structure of each day, which always began with a lecture, followed by keying practice, followed by a field trip.

At first I was intimidated by the sheer number of new names included in the handouts; they would prove invaluable for the practice and retention of this freshly acquired knowledge.  Now that I’ve had two months to contemplate the material, I’m awed by how many hours of teaching have gone into the design and editing of these documents.  In addition to my class notes, Linda’s material effectively summarizes the most useful parts of a taxonomy textbook and local field guide into just a few pages.  During that first hour of class she knew we were feeling overwhelmed, so reassured us that while there was going to be a lot of information hurled at us over the next three days, we did not need to worry about memorizing everything.  After spouting off a few complicated Latin plant names like most people would say “rose” or “daisy,” she recommended that we “just absorb what you can and leave the rest.  Remember, there’s not going to be an exam!”  Good advice.

DSCN7563  DSCN7514
Linda Vorobik with students in the lab. Right, entomologist Rich Little works on memorizing plant families for use in his field work.

Linda’s first lesson introduced us to the area we would be exploring and her history with it. This included falling head-over-heels with the magical Klamath-Siskiyou flora, many years studying native rock cresses (e.g. Arabis spp.), working with local heroes of botany, and sharing her beloved Siskiyous with hundreds of students before and after the 2002 Biscuit Fire dramatically altered the landscape.

We wrapped up the first morning familiarizing ourselves with major taxonomic divisions and basic terminology critical for using Jepson or any other flora, then solidifying what we’d learned by practicing on real specimens Linda had collected.  The hands-on approach, the casual way Linda peppered her speech with interesting facts and subtle repetition, the way she kept everything in context while progressing from simple to complex, as well as her gorgeous and highly-illustrative photographs, kept us rapt and left me feeling engaged and hungry for more.

After lunch-with-a-view on the porch, we caravaned into the mountains. Following 8 Dollar Mountain Road as it snaked through serpentine zones just on the edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, we made a handful of stops where Linda knew we would find  plants from a wide range of families.  Linda shared her knowledge of broad-scale ecological wonders such as the patchwork of soil types made visible by the density, size, and species of plants covering the rugged mountains.  We got our fill of difficult-to-spell Latin names,  and what Linda referred to as “movie star” plants.

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Botanizing at Poker Flat by Chelsea Reha

“Advanced Plant ID Crash Course” at Poker Flat” with Linda Ann Vorobik was a relaxing and educational three days of botanizing at Poker Flat, as well as at the Siskiyou Field Institute’s beautiful Deer Creek Center. Our small class size made it possible for Linda to address everyone’s questions and comments as we worked. Her … Read more

July 2014 Dragonflies in Josephine County

This past weekend, Dave and I taught a 2-day workshop on “Dragonflies in the State of Jefferson” offered through Siskiyou Field Institute in Selma, Josephine County, Oregon. Day 1 was our usual Introduction to Dragonflies, and Day 2 was our only “Intermediate” level class. In the Intermediate class, we go to rivers and a high … Read more

Field Sketching by Mary Raby

Just wanted to share some of my pictures from the field sketching class taught by Linda Vorobik. The class was fun, relaxed, and inspiring. I learned about plant identification and botany — this was my goal but I was pleasantly surprised to also get an art class complete with field sessions and helpful critiques. Thank you, Siskiyou Field Institute, for such quality learning in such a beautiful setting.

— Mary Raby

Vancouveria by MR
Vancouveria hexandra, the inside-out flower.
A darlingtonia photographed by Mary Raby.



Mary sketching beside a stream outside O’Brien.
Some of the sketch-worthy forms we saw in the field included a convolvulus



a lomatium, or desert parsley,
a sedum
and the colorful leaf bracts of an Indian paintbrush.

Botanizing Whetstone Butte by Christine Yee and Jon Carlson, CH

Botanizing Whetstone Butte with botanist Cecile Shohet was my first class at the Siskiyou Field Institute.  She was assisted by special guest field guide, geologist John Roth, who held the back end of our hefty class of 25 along the single trails. Though we had two expert leaders, I was also impressed by how much … Read more

Little Climate Change on the Prairie


by Daniel Newberry, SFI Executive Director

If you’ve been out to Deer Creek Center in the past few years, you’ve probably noticed the fenced area the size of a house filled with sprinklers and heat lamps. It sits in the pasture next to the gravel road shortly after you turn off Illinois River Road.  This enclosure is one of three facilities in the Pacific Northwest that comprise a study designed by ecologists Scott Bridgham and Bart Johnson of the University of Oregon.

Their research is attempting to answer two questions: How will climate change affect native plants in imperiled prairie ecosystems?  How certain restoration practices might be in protecting these ecosystems as climate change progresses?

To answer these questions, these scientists have established three research locations:  Deer Creek Center in southern Oregon, and on preserves managed by The Nature Conservancy near Eugene and in western Washington.  In each of the three enclosures are a series of treatment and control plots.  In the treatment plots are either heat lamps, sprinklers, or lamps and sprinklers.  The purpose of this hardware is to simulate the warmer and wetter conditions predicted for the Pacific Northwest.  The rate of plant growth in the plots helps determine how the plants are likely to fare under climate change.

We managed to catch up with Scott Bridgham by phone earlier this week.  He and Bart Johnson are currently writing up the results from the initial phase of their research.


SFI: Why the focus on prairie ecosystems?

Bridgham: Grasslands and associated open areas—which would include things like oak savannah—were (once) a predominant habitat type from southwestern Washington south of Seattle all the way down into Northern California. Many of those open ecosystems have been lost, depending on how you define them, only 1 to 10% of them are left, so they’re considered one of the more imperiled ecosystems in the U.S.  The reasons for loss have been myriad, some of which have been due to development and agriculture but one of the biggest ones of them have been succession to denser forest, often Douglas fir due to reduction in fire frequency with Euro-American settlement. They harbor many species, a few are rare and endangered species.  Another problem in these ecosystems which is true in this part of the world and around the world, is the effect of invasive species in the native communities.

SFI: What types of plants are you studying?

Bridgham: They’re species that are range-limited to somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, sort of on this side of the Cascades. They include grasses and forbs, perennials and annuals, so a pretty big distribution of species with different life history traits… From a larger perspective this should be a pretty representative group of species that would occur in grasslands.

SFI: So you’re looking at what happens when the temperature increases by 3 degrees Celcius and with an increase in 20% of the intensity of precipitation, both of which are what some climate change models are predicting for the Pacific Northwest.  What have you found so far?

Bridgham: The precipitation treatments have had very little effect in everything we’ve looked at, which makes for a short story.  The warming is much more interesting.  Much of its effect is actually in drying the soils .

What we found is, interestingly, not species-dependent, which is—I was surprised—that the species with warming (treatments) do poorer in their current range, even if it’s at the northern edge of their current range.  If we move them beyond their current range, they do fine or even better than they would have done further south in their range. It’s kind of what you’d expect but no one has ever done this experimentally, to my knowledge.

SFI: So if these native plants can migrate northward as the climate warms, they’ll survive?

Bridgham: The conundrum is, they’ve got to get there in a highly fractured landscape, because there are only islands of appropriate habitat that are, these days, very far apart.

SFI: In your study, you’re also looking at restoration techniques aimed at helping these vulnerable native plants, primarily against the exotics.

Bridgham: We knocked back the vegetation that was in the plots, which is primarily exotic species in all three sites… then we put in a broad suite of native species, around 30 total, so many more than just the range-limited species. Then they grew up and we had things that came out of the seed bank and they often were exotic species but whatever was in the seed bank, and we let them duke it out.”

It seems like the exotic species do better in the warmed plots—which is not good. So there’s a pretty strong suggestion that with climate change these grasslands are going to be dominated more by these annual exotics versus a mix of perennial natives and exotics, which would be a pretty major change in plant functional group which has lots of implications.

SFI: You mentioned that Oregon’s grasslands have been dominated, historically, by perennials.

Bridgham: They were dominated by perennial native bunchgrasses.  But when California was colonized way back when by the Europeans, they quickly introduced exotic grasses, so they have (now) been there for a very long time, and all their grasslands have pretty much dominated by annual exotic species with very few exceptions.

SFI: So it’s not just people who are moving from California to Oregon!  How are these exotics taking over? What’s happening, as it were, on the ground?

Bridgham: Perennial plants and the annual plants, they have very different phenologies of how long they stay green, when they fruit. If there are closely evolutionary coupled cycles between species and their pollinators, then that can certainly be disrupted.

SFI: Take us forward 50 years.  You told me that perhaps 99% of the people may not be able to tell the difference between the current perennial-dominated Oregon grasslands and the exotic-dominated grasslands that may be here in the future.

Bridgham: There are a lot of reasons that people give why you should protect biodiversity but it comes down, for me, to an ethical question: do we as humans have the right to decimate native fauna and flora?

SFI: So climate change, at least in grasslands in our area, is likely to cause a loss in biodiversity?

Bridgham: Yes.

Scott Bridgham is a professor at the University of Oregon’s Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.