Get the Jump On Spring

“GET THE JUMP ON SPRING” WILDFLOWER WALK
Mid-February to late March

Sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus) and orogenia (Lomatium linearifolium)

As days start to lengthen, triggering once again the urge to seek out the floristic treasures that the Boise Front has to offer, this walk offers an excellent chance to “get the jump on spring”.  With luck, you will be rewarded with at least two of the earliest blooming wildflowers and the spring serenade of meadowlarks, supplemented with a diversity of natural history and cultural tidbits that can be enjoyed throughout the winter months.  The loop described here is about 5 miles long, with about 600 feet elevation gain.  The full loop is now accessible to hikers only on even-numbered days, with the last leg (Lower Hulls Gulch #29) restricted to downhill cyclists on odd-numbered days (see Ridge to Rivers’ Special Trail Management Strategies).  Furthermore, some trail sections tend to be too muddy to use in winter except when frozen; the walk is therefore described in a counterclockwise direction so that the worst trail sections are more likely to still be frozen with an early morning start (e.g., by 9 am on an average winter day).  Lower Hulls Gulch is sandy enough to qualify as all-weather, though footwear traction devices (e.g., Yaktrax) are recommended if icy trails are a possibility.  Hiking poles can also be helpful, for negotiating both icy and rocky sections of trail.

Lower Hulls Gulch trailhead from Sunset Peak Road

The closest parking is at a wide spot on Sunset Peak Road (8th Street Extension) about 1/4 mile past the Foothills Learning Center (FLC); you can also park at the Hulls Gulch trailhead adjacent to the FLC (parking often limited, but with a restroom), and walk 0.3 miles north on Lower Hulls Gulch trail (#29) to the junction with Red Cliffs trail (#39).

If taking the trail from Sunset Peak Road, take note of the large patch of interior rose (Rosa woodsii ssp. ultramontana), our common native rose, on the right side of the path.  In contrast to the several species of non-native rose, which will be encountered later on the hike, interior rose has slender straight prickles and grows as an open thicket.  Note also the tall dried stalks of the highly toxic poison-hemlock (Conium maculatum), a concoction of which was used to poison Socrates.  You might also spot some leaves of the poison-hemlock, which look somewhat like those of carrots (which are in the same plant family, Apiaceae).

Bridge, shrubs, and multi-colored cliff at base of Red Cliffs Trail.

Turn right at the junction with the other branch of Lower Hulls Gulch trail (#29) and cross the bridge over the small creek, which is lined with the numerous slender stems of sandbar willow (Salix exigua var. exigua).  Go left up Red Cliffs trail (#39), first taking a moment to admire the colorful cliffs for which the trail is named.  Note the lovely red, yellow, black, brown, and white bands of soft sandstone, all representing different chemical and depositional strata in Lake Idaho sediments.

This is also a good starting place to hone your recognition skills for the three  primary upland shrubs that are common in the Boise Front:  bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa, previously Chrysothamnus nauseosus), and big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)Bitterbrush is a relatively large shrub covered with short stubs, which are nearly leafless in winter or with reduced winter leaves; these same stubs will be covered with fragrant yellow flowers in mid spring.   Stems are sometimes heavily browsed, since bitterbrush is one of the most important winter food sources for deer and elk.  Rubber rabbitbrush is a smaller grayish shrub, often topped with round clusters of dried flowers; most of the linear leaves fall off in winter.  In contrast, the fragrant, grayish, 3-toothed leaves of big sagebrush are present year-round, and the spikes of tiny dried flowers are also distinctive.  As you continue your walk, take note of how each of these three shrubs prefer different habitats, in particular associated with soil type and slope aspect.  Be sure to also admire the colorful lichens that occur on the stems of large bitterbrush and sagebrush, indicating that these qualify as old-growth shrubs.

Another fascinating item to keep an eye out for during your walk is the diversity of plant galls that can be found at this time of year, in particular on rabbitbrush, sagebrush, and willows.  The most intriguing of these curious structures form when certain insects, most often tiny wasps and flies, lay their eggs on developing plant tissue; somehow, the developing larvae then chemically “hijack” the plant’s growth mechanisms to create a custom-built home specific to that insect, on a specific species of plant.  The study of plant galls is still a wide-open field, with a large percentage of gall-forming species still undescribed, including some of the most common ones in the Boise Front. (Note: labels on photos are morphological descriptions rather than standardized common names).

Flowing mud during freeze-thaw cycle.

Continuing beyond the cliffs, the trail traverses across a a slope with heavy clay content, which is likely to be exceptionally muddy if neither dry nor frozen.  If at all muddy, turn around and come back another day; do not proceed!  High-clay soils in the Boise Front are extremely fragile and can be badly damaged by irresponsible use when muddy, resulting in erosion, badly damaged trails, decline of native vegetation, and spread of invasive non-natives, at the expense of the very wildflowers that we are here to look for.  The freeze-thaw cycle that is typical of late winter, when saturated ground freezes at night and then warms in the morning sun, creates particularly unfavorable conditions.  Water released as the top layers thaw cannot soak into the still-frozen layers underneath, and instead forms a slippery slurry that can actually flow when thawing.  Trampling on adjacent vegetation in an attempt to avoid the mud results in destroying this vegetation as well, expanding the damaged mud-prone section of trail wider and wider.  Please don’t be misled into thinking that your individual choices have no impact; quite the opposite.

Sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus var. glaberrimus)

As long as the trail is dry or frozen solid, continue onward, keeping an eye out for the first of our target wildflowers on the upper portion of the slope:  sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus).  These charming yellow flowers, which can be found throughout the Boise Front, appear quickly after a spell of weather warm enough to thaw the ground, sometimes by early February, sometimes not until March.  If no buttercups are in bloom at this site during your walk, don’t give up; there are other populations on the loop that might be further along.  There are also numerous other trails with early displays of sagebrush buttercup, including Polecat Gulch, Peggy’s Trail, Cartwright Ridge, and trails from the Big Springs trailhead.

View NW showing discontinuous plateaus of former lake-bed terrace.

At the top of the slope, the trail levels out onto a flat-topped divide or narrow plateau between side gullies of Hulls Gulch.  Particularly looking to the northwest, you can similar plateaus aligned in the same plane, representing the remnants of a former lake bed terrace that has been tilted by the uplift of the Boise Ridge and eroded by numerous drainages.  Be forewarned: soils on these plateaus tend to be fine-grained and therefore muddy when wet.  The lighter color of these remnant plateaus in winter, which makes them easy to see, results primarily from a dense thatch of dried grasses, mostly intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyron intermedium) and other non-native perennials.

Buttercups struggling through non-native grass thatch.

These non-native perennial grasses, which have been routinely planted for forage and post-fire rehabilitation, can unfortunately crowd out native wildflower diversityMost of our wildflowers are adapted to the open matrix between the shrubs and bunchgrasses that characterize our local shrub steppe.  The background matrix may appear to be bare ground, but it is actually a complex microhabitat that is critical to the reproduction and flourishing of many, perhaps the majority, of our native species.  Non-native grasses, both rhizomatous perennials like intermediate wheatgrass and invasive annuals like cheatgrass, eliminate this critical habitat by filling it with their own biomass, which tends to accumulate as dried thatch in the absence of decomposing organisms adapted to non-native species.  Throughout your walk, both today and throughout the year elsewhere in the Boise Front, take note of the difference in species diversity between areas of shrub steppe that still have a good open matrix, vs. those that have been filled in by thatch.

Continuing on the topic of grasses, the majority of our native grasses are perennial bunchgrasses, meaning that they form more or less tight tufts instead of spreading turf or swards.  Many of these can be seen on this walk and identified even in the winter; some of the more conspicuous are pictured below.  Three-awn grass (Aristida purpurea var. longiseta) is particularly abundant on sandy south-facing slopes; it is easily recognized by the seeds tipped by three long awns, many remaining attached throughout the winter.  The awned seeds of squirreltail grass (Elymus elymoides, previously Sitanion hystrix) form a distinctive dense cluster that easily breaks apart once mature, but usually with enough basal portions retained to confirm identification.  Another conspicuous bunchgrass that can be common on sandy flats at several sites along this walk, sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus), has a more subtle combination of diagnostic characters:  relatively wide, twisted leaves and narrow, curved inflorescences with tiny seeds.   Bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata, previously in Agropyron) is another common but even more challenging grass, in that both native and non-native forms are common in the Boise Front.  The native, locally adapted genotype (= genetically unique form) forms rather messy clumps with straight, slender inflorescences, most often on north-facing slopes in reasonably intact shrub-steppe.  In contrast, the non-native genotype(s), which are widely used for post-fire rehabilitation, are generally larger and more erect, and can also form more solid stands in a diversity of habitats.  Bluebunch wheatgrass is one of the most widely used native grasses propagated for various purposes, with multiple cultivars developed from particularly vigorous sources.

Some dried wildflowers are also identifiable in winter condition, sometimes jokingly referred to as “forensic botany”.  Pictured below are some to keep an eye out for on this walk, beginning with the natives:

Add some of the more distinctive non-natives:

View up Red Cliffs trail

Returning to the walk description itself, Red Cliffs trail continues winding up the small ridge for 1.3 mile, sometimes cutting across north-facing slopes to avoid some steep ascents on the ridgeline proper.  The snow-covered Boise Ridge beckons to the northeast, promising a rewarding destination for summer wildflower walks (e.g., Hulls Gulch Interpretive Loop, Milepost 12/Upper Dry Creek, Shafer Butte Loop).  On a clear day, the Owyhee Mountains stand out on the southern horizon, easily admired when the trail crests out after doubling back through a stand of bitterbrush.  Among the trailside curiosities that might catch your attention are the tubular mesh “cages” (aka Vexar® Seedling Protection Tubes) that are placed to protect seedling sagebrush and other shrubs, which are often planted for restoration and to discourage further trail widening.  Golden patches of ground-covering moss, tipped with slender young sporophytes, glow enchantingly when backlit by the low winter sun.  A young Russian-olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) is conspicuous at one spot along the Red Cliffs trail; other representatives of this highly invasive tree are scattered on the ridge above and elsewhere along the loop.  Small slickspots, nearly devoid of vegetation, can be noted on some of the flatter stretches; these seemingly degraded sites, formed and maintained by an unknown combination of factors, are in fact one of our most sensitive habitats regionally.  Larger expanses elsewhere support the last remaining populations of slickspot peppergrass (Lepidium papilliferum), currently listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.  Perhaps this species can someday be reintroduced into appropriate habitats throughout the foothills, including sites like these along the Red Cliffs trail.

Planted rows of bitterbrush along Red Cliffs trail.

Another noteworthy feature consists of the straight bands of bitterbrush that can be seen from some vistas, in particular looking back from the final ascent of Red Cliffs trail.  These are evidence of massive planting efforts in previous decades, probably planted as post-fire rehabilitation.  Further along on this walk you can see evidence of earlier experimental plantings of a wide diversity of shrubs from throughout the western US, mostly by the Rocky Mountain Research Station in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  The goal at this time was to improve deer winter range, with a focus on growth rates, protein content, winter leafiness, and palatability.  Whether or not a species was already growing in the Boise Front was irrelevant; quite the contrary, trying out shrubs far outside of their natural range was part of the experiment.  In addition to the current walk, the Cobb Trail wildflower walk also highlights some noteworthy survivors of this planting phase.

Aase’s onion (Allium aaseae) in early bloom.

Red Cliffs trail ends at the junction with Crestline trail (#28), which follows the ridge dividing the Hulls Gulch and Freestone/Cottonwood drainages.  The full loop described here takes the lefthand fork, continuing uphill, with the righthand fork an alternate option for a shorter and/or odd-numbered day loop option via the Kestral trail.  Even if doing the full loop, consider taking a short sidetrip (about 120 yards from the right junction) to see a small population of Aase’s onion (Allium aaseae) growing on the bank where the road cuts through a high spot on the ridge.  Plants often begin blooming in early March, but can be recognized even earlier by the curving paired leaves with a reddish bud at the base.  Be careful not to disturb these locally rare plants, whose worldwide distribution is limited to sandy areas in the foothills from Boise to Emmett.

High voltage transmission lines marching across foothills.

Returning to the junction with Red Cliffs trail,  the main loop continues northeast (uphill) on the lefthand fork of the Crestline trail (#28).  Note that this is marked as an easement through private property, as are other segments of the loop and many other trails in the Boise Front; be respectful and stay on the marked trail, to avoid jeopardizing future access.  Several items are worth pondering about on this stretch of trail; for example, how did rounded cobblestones, indicative of a former riverbed, end up on a ridgeline?  Or, where exactly is the electricity generated that is flowing through the high voltage power transmission lines high overhead, strung between conspicuous towers marching across the foothills?  And where is it heading, as part of the grid that provides the power to our light-switches that we take for granted?

Black-locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), with seed-pods and magpie nest (lower right).

Another noteworthy feature, about 1/3 mile from the Red Cliff trail junction, is a prominent grove of black-locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia) above a large erosion gully.  Black-locust, native to the eastern United States, was one of several trees planted by early Euro-American settlers that thrived in the Boise Front.  Trees are easily recognized, even in mid-winter, by the persisting flattened seed-pods, thorny branches, and deeply furrowed bark, which is often covered with colorful lichens.  This and other groves are popular nesting sites for magpies, with the thorny branches providing added protection for the large masses of twigs that surround the nest proper.

Erosion gully below black-locust grove on Crestline trail.

Black-locust groves in the Boise foothills commonly mark the site of old homesteads, but the presence of this particular grove is a bit of puzzler.  There is no adjacent flat site that would indicate a former homestead or abandoned field, nor a currently obvious source of water to have created the associated erosion gully.  A plausible but unconfirmed explanation, provided by the realization that Crestline trail from this point makes a nearly level transect to Hulls Gulch creek, is that the trail follows an old abandoned ditch that once diverted water from Hulls Gulch to the Cottonwood/Freestone Creek drainage, perhaps to supplement the water available to Fort Boise and the earliest adjacent settlements.  If so, did the ditch fail at this point, creating the current large erosion gully, or was the water was simply allowed to flow freely once across the dividing ridge?

Dogleg on Crestline trail, with cliff-rose marked on ridge.

Crestline trail follows the contour line from this point, though the roadside drainage barrow only hints at a former irrigation ditch.  Around the bend (which is a good place to look for an odd ground lichen, Diploschistes muscorum, sometimes called “bird-poop lichen”), and past the west junction with Sidewinder Trail (#24), the trail make a sharp dogleg around the head of a brush-lined drainage.  The dominant shrub here is one of the non-native wild roses (Rosa) that are established to the point of being invasive in the Boise Front.  The several different possible species are difficult to distinguish in winter, but all can be readily distinguished from the native interior rose (Rosa woodsii ssp. ultramontana, noted previously) by their dense growth form, arching branches, large hooked thorns, and conspicuous hips (= fruit) that have dropped their sepals.  Conspicuous mossy galls are also much more common on non-native roses.  Take note also of the large shrub on the ridgeline, marked by arrow in the accompanying photograph.  This is the largest survivor in a small colony of cliff-rose (Purshia stansburiana, previously in Cowania), easily accessible from the Sidewinder Trail.  The presence of this lovely shrub in the Boise Front, 200 miles north of its normal range in the Great Basin, suggests that cliff-rose is one of the shrubs persisting from the experimental plantings mentioned previously.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) on Crestline trail.

As the trail wraps around to the opposite side of the drainage, take note of the difference in snow persistence between the north- and south-facing slopes, and the associated differences in soil type, vegetation cover, and species composition.  This dramatic difference between north- and south-facing slopes, a significant feature of the Boise Front in general, presumably results from different amounts of solar radiation, but exactly how this affects the development of different soil types and associated vegetation remains to be determined.   You will also see a small colony of smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), another presumed survivor of earlier experimental plantings.  Although the Boise Front is encompassed by the natural range of this wide-ranging species, the fact that it only occurs here as small localized populations, restricted to areas where other non-native shrubs have been intentionally planted or escaped, suggests that smooth sumac is only present locally as a result of experimental plantings.  The colony, which consists mostly of dead stems, is barely hanging on, probably dependent on water captured by the ditch remnant.  The attractive red stems of non-native curly dock (Rumex crispus) might also catch your attention, growing along the roadside drainage.

Colony of orogenia (Lomatium linearifolium); inflorescences marked with arrows.

After the trail doubles back again, now traversing the north-facing slope above Hulls Gulch, it is time to start keeping a close eye out for our second target species, known variously as orogenia, turkey-pea, and Indian-potato (Lomatium linearifolium, previously in Orogenia).  This cute little plant sometimes blooms even earlier than sagebrush buttercups, but is less common and much less conspicuous.  Even at peak bloom, the clusters of tiny salt-and-pepper flowers can be hard to spot, and if there are still patches of snow around the challenge of distinguishing flowers from snow flecks is even greater.  Your best bet is to scan areas of bare soil on the road bank, with patches scattered from here to the creek crossing.  This particular harbinger of spring is unfortunately in decline in the foothills, as the bare soil it requires is filled with competing non-natives and thatch.  Please do not contribute to further decline by digging the bulbs; leave the flowers for others to enjoy!

Crestline trail above Lower Hulls Gulch

This stretch of trail is also a good place to start looking for more buttercups, as well as paying attention to the shrubby willows (several species of Salix) that line the road in places.  Even in winter, willows can be easily recognized (at least to genus!) by their buds, which are covered with a single bud-scale shaped like a curved, blunt cone.  With luck, you will see newly emerging inflorescences, commonly called pussy-willows, breaking free of these buds, before expanding into mature male and female inflorescences.  Keep an eye out for willow galls as well, with willow leaf galls being particularly conspicuous here.  Take a look also at the distant opposite slope, specifically the curious eroded orange cliffs at the top of a drainage with exposed granite outcrops at the base.  Our loop will take us to the granite outcrop and the special plants there, but whatever botanical curiosities might occur on the orange cliffs is currently unknown.

Cusick’s primrose (Primula cusickiana)

About 1/4 mile before the road reaches the creek, Crestline trail gives way to the 8th Street Motorcycle trail (#4) where the latter doubles back up the slope; be aware that motorcycles might be legally sharing this short stretch of the loop.  Especially in mid- to late March, consider taking a short side trip up the right fork, which transects high quality shrub-steppe habitat on a steep north-facing slope.  Note the wonderful diversity of wildflowers that flourish in the intact portions of this habitat, which used to be the dominant habitat on north-facing slopes throughout the foothills before being overrun and displaced by invasive annuals, planted grasses, and other non-natives.  In particular, look carefully for the lovely Cusick’s primrose (Primula cusickiana), about 1/10 mile from the junction (while also remaining alert for bicycles and motorcycles on a narrow singletrack trail).  This is our only native true primrose, faintly violet-scented, which has become increasingly difficult to find as its habitat declines.  It also has a fun backstory, in that the first collection from the Boise Front was by made by Captain Timothy E. Wilcox when he was stationed at Fort Boise as Assistant Surgeon.  The collection was sent to a botanist in New York, who thought it might be a new species to be named “wilcoxiana”.  Although this name was never formally published, it has remained associated with the Boise populations of this lovely spring wildflower.

River birch (Betula occidentalis) in winter

Returning to the main loop, continue following the contour road (left-hand fork of the 8th Street Motorcycle Trail) to the multi-trail junction at the Hulls Gulch creek crossing.  While still keeping an eye out for more buttercups and orogenia, start paying attention to the diversity of shrubs and small trees that line the stream, along with the beautiful birds that enrich this habitat.  One of the largest is river birch (Betula occidentalis), whose multiple trunks are covered with smooth dark bark.  Our state flower, syringa (Philadelphus lewisii), can be recognized in winter by the distinctive dried capsules; come back in early June to enjoy the fragrant flowers.  Large shrubs or small trees with thorns and a few left-over fruit (“haws”) are black hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii), our local native hawthorn.  Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea, alternately C. stolonifera) gets its common name from the willow-like red stems, which resemble those of interior rose (which has been scattered at multiple locations along our walk) but with opposite branching and no prickles.  A variety of willows and roses, both native and non-native, provide additional winter color with their red and yellow stems.  Perhaps the most important woody plant to learn how to recognize, however, is the inconspicuous low-growing one with dull gray stems bearing whitish berries.  This is our local form of western poison-ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii); emerging young leaves are particularly rich in dermatitis-causing urushiol, and broken winter stems should also be avoided.  Many birds, however, relish the berries as an important winter food source.

Hips of dog rose (Rosa canina) at peak flavor.

Across the bridge on the north side of the creek, a wide spot with large rocks to sit on provides a convenient place to take a break and enjoy a snack.  In addition to refreshing yourself with whatever you brought along, this is a particularly good spot to taste-test wild rose hips, specifically those of the non-native dog rose (Rosa canina) that flourishes at this site.  The hips are best in late winter, after freezing has softened and sweetened the pulp.  Taking care not to get snagged on the prickles, select an oblong fruit that is bright orange-red, slightly soft, and unmarred.  Break it off at its base, and either carefully squeeze out some of the pulp, or else nibble a bit off the base of the hip.  Be careful to avoid the seeds (pips) and the irritating hairs that surround them.  If you succeed in selecting a prime hip, and extracting the edible pulp, you will be rewarded with a burst of intense flavor that is high in vitamin C.  Please discard the uneaten portion in the middle of an existing population; otherwise you may be contributing to the spread of this invasive species.

Contrasting north- and south-facing slopes on Lower Hulls Gulch trail.

Provided it is an even-numbered calendar date, continue the loop by heading down Lower Hulls Gulch trail (#29).  The trail is sandy enough to qualify as all-weather, but icy stretches in winter are best navigated with traction footwear.  The first thing to take note of is the extreme contrast between the south-facing slope you are now on, and the north-facing slope on the other side of the creek.  Here on the south-facing slope, where warmed by the sun even in winter, soils are sandier, vegetation cover is sparser, and a different suite of species predominate. Tiny spring-blooming annuals, collectively referred to as belly flowers, are common in favorable years, notably spring whitlow-grass (Draba verna) with its split white petals, yellow-flowered desert alyssum (Alyssum desertorum), the white flowers and blue-green foliage of jagged chickweed (Holosteum umbellatum), the delightful pink and white flowers of slender phlox (Microsteris gracilis), and the light green basal rosettes and white flower clusters of cross-seed popcornflower (Plagiobothrys tenellus); regrettably, only the last two are native.  Cranes-bill (Erodium cicutarium) is abundant, with its pink flowers arising from rosettes of conspicuous winter-red leaves, and you might even catch the purple pea-flowers of woolly-pod milkvetch (Astragalus purshii var. glareosus) in bloom.  Also take time to admire the mosses and colorful lichens on granite boulders along the trail; this time of year is actually their most active growing season.

Granite outcrops and netleaf hackberry in Lower Hulls Gulch

The most impressive features along this stretch of the loop, about half a mile downstream from the junction, are some trailside granite outcrops.  (Note: the trail traverses one outcrop with tricky enough footing to make hiking poles appreciated.)  These outcrops ares the bones of the Idaho Batholith, exposed by the creek cutting away the overlying sediments of Pliocene Lake Idaho.  The combination of exposed granite and cold area drainage down the deeply cut creek makes this spot a low-elevation refuge for common woodbeauty (Drymocallis glandulosa var. glandulosa, previously in Potentilla as sticky cinquefoil), and possibly other species more common at high elevations above the Lake Idaho sediments.  Even at this time of year, woodbeauty can be recognized by its pinnate basal leaves and dried inflorescence; come back in early summer to look for the flowers with small cream-white petals.  Less welcome are the bluish green clusters of myrtle spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) that are abundant on the opposite site of the creek; although the rosettes of succulent leaves and early-blooming yellow flowers make this a seemingly desirable addition to fire-wise gardens, it is an extremely pernicious non-native whose milky sap can cause blisters, or even blindness.  If hiking the loop when temperatures still drop below freezing, be sure to also admire the beautiful, and often bizarre, ice formations that develop along the creek, especially where flowing water cascades over rocks.

The dense tangled groves of netleaf hackberry (Celtis reticulata), particularly noticeable near the outcrops, are common in rocky sites throughout the foothills.  Although defying traditional aesthetics in American landscaping norms, this shrub to small tree deserves more horticultural consideration as a drought-tolerant native that supports a large number of insect species, which in turn are critical for songbirds.  One of these insects is the cause of the conspicuous petiole gall on dried leaves that persist through the winter, contributing to the hackberry’s apparent “messiness”.  The small reddish berries have only a thin layer of dried pulp over the large seed, but the intense sweetness of this layer in mid-winter merits a taste trial.

Black cottonwoods in Lower Hulls Gulch.

About 1/3 mile farther down the trail, approaching the high-voltage transmission lines passing high overhead, keep an eye out for cone galls on the sandbar willows (Salix exigua).  These are most common just before a large stand of black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) that flourishes at the mouth of the same drainage that the dogleg on the Crestline trail wrapped around.  Black cottonwood, easily recognized by its smooth powdery white bark and large sharply pointed buds, is the largest of our native trees that occurs along streams below the conifer zone.  The old dangling nests of Bullock’s orioles can often be seen in the high branches.  Growing with the cottonwoods is a large tangled thicket of small trees and shrubs, including various willows (Salix spp.), more river birch, Russian-olive, and red-osier dogwood.  By late March, you might also see scattered cherry plums (Prunus cerasifera) in flower; this non-native small tree is our most common and early-blooming species of Prunus.  Mahaleb cherry (Prunus mahaleb) is also well-established at this site, covered in white flowers in late April and early May.  This shrub to small tree was probably originally brought to the Boise area as rootstock for other kinds of Prunus (e.g., cherries and plums), though a spice derived from the seeds has an ancient history.  Like most other Prunus and several other genera, both species have smooth dark bark with horizontal streaks called lenticels, which allow the tree to “breathe”.  The winter twigs of mahaleb cherry are finely hairy, while those of cherry plum are glabrous.

Escaped juniper and staghorn sumac in Lower Hulls Gulch.

In another 1/3 mile, an unofficial trail to the right follows a deeply eroded gully to Sunset Drive/8th Street Extension, also providing access to East Highland View Drive.  The main trail forks a bit later, only to rejoin after a short distance.  The right-hand option provides a good opportunity to look for more early blooming annuals on the open south-facing slope, as well as comparing the similar red stems of red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea; opposite branching) and interior rose (Rosa woodsii ssp. ultramontana; alternate branching) growing side by side.  The left-hand option crosses two bridges over the creek, and also passes by a solitary Utah serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) on the left, which could be in bloom in late April/early May.  Both options allow a good look at several noteworthy non-native trees and shrubs growing intermixed with the other streamside vegetation.  The spindly shrub with brick red clusters of fuzzy fruit is staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), which differs from the smooth sumac seen earlier on the walk in that the twigs are densely hairy (resembling the velvet on deer antlers, giving rise to the common name).  The evergreen juniper (Juniperus sp.) is a puzzle; even though several native species of juniper are major ecosystem components south of the Snake River Plains, the distribution and age class of the ones scattered along streams in the Boise Front suggest that these are all sporadic introductions of cultivated junipers, perhaps cultivars of Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis), mostly likely spread by birds.  If so, this in turn begs the question of why native junipers, which are abundant elsewhere in southern Idaho, are missing from the Boise Front.  The third noteworthy non-native is a well-established colony of English elm (Ulmus procera), which dominates the downstream end of the grove.  It can be recognized by its dark lichen-spangled bark and twigs that are often corky winged; these features, along with its tendency to form rhizomatous colonies, help distinguish this species from other naturalized elms in the Boise Front.

Pine at mouth of Lower Hulls Gulch.

The final 1/3 mile to complete the loop has no shortage of additional curiosities to engage the attention of anyone willing to take note of their surroundings, such as the numerous gopher mounds, leaf rosettes of a variety of native and non-native plants, the dried red stems of broom buckwheat (Eriogonum vimineum), and occasional black beetles scuttling across the path.  These, however, are now left to the individual observer to appreciate, and to ponder on.  What is the origin, for example, of the lone pine tree on the left at the mouth of the gulch?  And why is the large box-elder on the right more dead than alive?  Keep your eyes open, and keep nourishing your sense of curiosity, as you continuing enjoying the Boise Front on future walks throughout the year.

Special thanks to Roger Rosentreter, Alma Hanson, and Samuel Degrey for helping with the identifications of lichens, mosses, and galls, and to all my hiking companions that tolerate my wandering rambles.

The Story of Wilcox's Primrose

(in collaboration with Carol Prentice)

Our sole native true primrose is officially known as Cusick’s primrose (Primula cusickiana), but locally it is sometimes referred to as Wilcox’s primrose, or even wilcoxiana.  The reason why is intertwined with the early history of Boise.

The story begins with Captain Timothy Erastus Wilcox (1840-1932), who was posted as Assistant Surgeon at Fort Boise from June 1879 to August 1882.  With the Fort conveniently situated at the base of the Boise Foothills, near the mouth of Cottonwood Creek, Wilcox was able to indulge his naturalistic bent, and may in fact be the first Boise resident to have made plant collections that ended up in permanent herbaria.  Among his claims to fame is a paper that he published in Nature calling attention to the absence of earthworms in Boise; evidently they did not occur here until introduced by settlers.  He is also credited with introducing pheasant and bobwhite in Oregon and Idaho (Ewan & Ewan 1981).  As part of his official duties, Wilcox was even delegated with providing daily weather observations, a task required by U.S. Army Post Surgeons during Wilcox’s tenure at Fort Boise (Smith 2017).*

The plants Wilcox collected in Boise were sent to botanists in New York, where they triggered this write-up in the July 1881 issue of Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club:

Idaho Plants.—The acknowledgements of the Torry Club are due to Dr. T. E. Wilcox, U.S.A., of Boisee[sic] City, Idaho, for several packages of plants of that vicinity collected in April and May of this year.  Many interesting species are represented; among them, Delphinium decorum var. Nevadense, Watson; Brodiaea laxa, Watson; Fritillaria pudica, Spreng.; Allium nevadense, Watson; Balsamorrhiza[sic] Hookeri, Nutt.; Antennaria dimorpha, T. & G.; Crepis occidentalis, Nutt.; Lupinus Chamissonis, Eschs.; Mertensia oblongifolia, DC.; Plectritis congesta, DC.; also a dwarf primrose of the same general size and habit as Primula angustifolia, but having a from 1–5-flowered scape and showing also marked differences in the inflorescence from that described by Dr. Gray.  Prof. Wood regarded this as a variety of P. Parryi, Gray, and named it var. Wilcoxiana.  It appears to be the same as var. Cusickiana, Gray, of P. angustifolia (N. A. Flora, p. 393) except that the last-named variety is described as only 2-flowered.  P. angustifolia flourishes in its typical, 1-flowered form, on high mountain elevations, such as Gray’s and Pike’s Peak, at 11,000 ft. to 13,000 ft., where we have found it abundant.  The many-flowered forms grow at much lower elevations (where P. parryi, a much larger species, is found) but the foliage shows no marks of any greater vigor in the plants.  It is possibly a distinct species.”

The “Prof. Wood” who proposed naming the Primula in honor of Wilcox is Alphonso Wood (1810-1881), the principal of Brooklyn Female Academy and the first to use dichotomous keys in his  “Class-Book of Botany”; most of Wood’s own herbarium is now at New York Botanical Garden.  However, neither Wood nor any other botanist ever actually followed through on formally describing Wilcox’s collection of Primula as either a distinct variety or a species, though the exact relationship between plants in the Boise Front (“wilcoxiana”) and plants in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon has been an ongoing question.  The latter location is where William C. Cusick made the collection that Asa Gray described first as Primula angustifolia var. cusickiana, and then elevated to a full species.

The use of “Wilcoxiana” as a local common is confirmed in Bernice Bjornson’s 1946 Key to the Spring Flora of Southwestern Idaho, a mimeographed collector’s item that I myself used in a biology class in Boise High School.  In it, Bjornson notes that:

“A few places in the West are fortunate in having the attractive little primrose known in southern Idaho as Wilcoxiana, Primula cusickiana. Its leaves are simple, entire, and basal. Its flowers borne on a leafless stalk vary in color from pale blue to dark purple with a yellow eye. They are fragrant. People who lived in southwestern Idaho in the early 1900’s tell us that in spring the foothills used to be a mass of color with these flowers. Surely this is a flower which needs protection; one has to hunt for it nowadays.”

Although the primrose was never formally published, at least one plant was officially named in Wilcox’s honor:  Quercus wilcoxii Rydb., from Arizona (now included within Quercus chrysolepis s.l., canyon live oak).  The cactus genus Wilcoxia Britton & Rose (now a section of Echinocereus) is also named after him, from the period he was posted in Arizona.  However, the majority of plants with the epithet wilcoxii or wilcoxiana are named after other plant-collecting Wilcoxes.  As a prime example, Wilcox’s penstemon (Penstemon wilcoxii), whose lovely blue flowers grace higher elevations in the Boise Front, is named in honor of Earley Vernon Wilcox, a biology professor at University of Montana 1896-1899 (Ewan & Ewan 1981).

More information on Wilcox’s life can be found in his obituary (Eggleston, 1933).  He was born in North Litchfield, New York, on 26 April 1840, and received his M.D. from Albany Medical College in 1864.  Noteworthy events in his career included attending Jefferson Davis during his detention at Fortress Monroe after the Civil War.  He went to Cuba in 1898 (i.e., during the Spanish-American War) as lieutenant-colonel chief surgeon and was honorably discharged the following year.  He joined the Torrey Botanical Club in 1880, after being proposed for membership by Alphonso Wood, and was made a life member in 1930.  From 1917 onward he was nearly blind, but his mind was clear until his death in 1932.  Wilcox is buried in Arlington Cemetery, along with his wife Clara Brainard Brown.

Timothy E. Wilcox’s grave marker in Arlington Cemetery (photo by Carol Prentice)

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*Reports of local weather at stations throughout the country were telegraphed to a central location in Washington, D.C., where they were compiled and analyzed as the foundation to understanding broad-scale climatic patterns.  As of 1877, the inclusion of weather reporting in the duties of medical personnel at Fort Boise overlapped those of U.S. Signal Service Observers.  The first of these, Sergeant Barnet Edward Light, was my great-grandfather, and the beginning of my own roots in the Boise Front.

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References:

Brown, A.  1881.  Idaho Plants. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 8(7): 81-83.

Bjornson, Bernice.  1946.  A Key to the Spring Flora of Southwestern Idaho.  mimeographed, 121 pp.  Copyright by the author.

Eggleston, W. W.  1933.  Obituary: Timothy E. Wilcox.  Science 77 (1995): 300.

Ewan, J., and N. D. Ewan.  1981.  Biographical Dictionary of Rocky Mountain Naturalists.  Regnum Vegetabile vol. 107.  citing Auk 2 (1885): 315.

Smith, J. D.  2017.  The History of Weather Observation — Boise Idaho.  NOAA Technical Memorandum NWS WR-291. https://www.weather.gov/media/wrh/online_publications/TMs/TM-291.pdf

Common Mosses and Ground Lichens of the Boise Foothills

Several different kinds of mosses can be commonly found in the Boise Foothills, growing on the ground or on boulders.  Some of the most common are shown here, along with a couple of the more curious-looking lichens that also grow on the ground (vs. several more colorful species found on rocks and bark).  Special thanks to Roger Rosentreter and Alma Hanson for identifications!

Mosses are in a fascinating group of plants called bryophytes.  Lacking true roots or vascular tissue, our local mosses tend to have their most active growing period when there is abundant moisture and cool temperatures in winter and early spring.  Once days become hot, mosses become dormant by drying out completely, and can actually be killed if moistened and exposed to hot sun.

Mosses also have a bizarre (from our narrow point of view) life cycle.  The leafy green component, called the gametophyte, has only a single set of chromosomes per cell, referred to as the haploid condition.  Gametophytes are either male or female, producing either sperm or egg cells at the top of the leafy stems.  Fertilized eggs grow into the stalklike component tipped with a spore-bearing capsule, called the sporophyte.  Although attached to and dependent on the gametophyte, the sporophyte is actually a genetically distinct individual in which there are two sets of chromosomes, referred to as the diploid condition (the common condition in most animals and vascular plants).  Haploid spores are produced in the sporophyte capsules and develop into new gametophytes, completing the cycle of alternation of generations. 

Although often confused, or at least lumped together, lichens are a completely different critter, and are if anything even more bizarre than mosses (again, from our narrow point of view).  Lichens are not even plants per se, but rather a more or less mutualistic combination of a fungus and an alga (the singular form of algae, which is technically plural), and sometimes one or more bacteria as well.  Each unique kind of lichen is formed by a specific fungus that harbors specific unicellular algae, with the former providing soil nutrients and a protective environment for the algae, and the latter providing carbohydrates produced by photosynthesis.

The primary similarity between mosses and lichens is the relatively small size and tendency to become summer-dormant, allowing them to thrive on challenging sites like bare rocks and barren ground.  In this capacity, their seeming insignificance belies a disproportionate ecological impact, by playing major roles in the biotic breakdown of rocks, nutrient cycling, and various other ecological services dependent on the biotic soil crust in semi-arid environments like the Boise Front.

Chief Eagle Eye Reserve

CHIEF EAGLE EYE RESERVE (Ige dai Teviwa) WILDFLOWER WALK
End of summer

Alkali flat and Eagle Rock

In addition to highlighting its significant Native American importance, a walk around Chief Eagle Eye Reserve (Ige dai Teviwa, previously Castle Rock Reserve) provides some geological and accompanying botanical diversity that is not represented on other wildflower walks.  Situated to the northwest of the primary trailhead for the Table Rock trail system, this area is the source of Boise’s geothermal system.  Although the relatively short loop described here can be a pleasant walk anytime of the year, the wildflower walk is described as an end-of-summer option, when some noteworthy fall-blooming species can be appreciated.  The loop is about 1½ miles long, with about 250 feet elevation gain.  Soils are heavy clay and should be avoided if at all muddy.  During your visit, be respectful of the sacred significance of the area to Native Americans.

CONTENTS:
Geology
Native American Significance
Self-guided Wildflower Walk

Netleaf hackberry (Celtis reticulata) at base of quarried face of Table Rock sandstone.

GEOLOGY:  The Table Rock area as a whole is downfaulted relative to the foothills to the north, exposing one of the more complete (700-foot) stratigraphic sections in the foothills.  The dominant geological feature of the local area is the 15-meter-thick layer of silicified sandstone that forms the cap of Table Rock, similar sandstone occurs in a band across the upper part of Chief Eagle Eye Reserve.  Silica-saturated geothermal waters seeping upwards along the area’s numerous faults, heated by the buried batholith deep underground, percolated through Lake Idaho sediments and cemented the grains together to form the current durable sandstone, which includes fossils of snails and petrified wood.  The stone has been quarried as “Boise Sandstone” for around 150 years, originally by prisoners at the adjacent Idaho State Penitentiary (now a historical site).  The quarried stone has been widely used, both locally (e.g., the Idaho State Capitol Building, constructed in 1920) and across the nation (e.g., Harkness Tower at Yale University).

Eagle Rock/Castle Rock

Chief Eagle Eye Reserve also is capped by a similar layer of silicified sandstone, above layers of claystone, hydrothermally altered basalt, and Idavada Group rhyolite, possibly indirectly connected with the formation of the Yellowstone hot spot.  This is in fact one of the few exposures of Miocene rhyolite and basalt in the Boise Front, extending to Rocky Canyon.  The rhyolite is the oldest rock locally, forming a layer at least 300 feet thick; a petrologically different rhyolite body underlies the ones that are exposed.  The conspicuous landmark on the Reserve is a rhyolite outcrop previously known as Castle Rock, recently renamed Eagle Rock to acknowledge its original Native American name.  Outlying populations of littleleaf brickellbush (Brickellia microphylla) can be found on the rhyolite, at the very edge of its geographic range.

The area is also the source of Boise’s well-known geothermal system, the nation’s oldest and largest geothermal district heating network.  Indigenous people and travelers on the Oregon Trail took advantage of the warm springs at the base of Table Rock.  In 1890 wells started being drilled to develop the 170° subterranean hot water as a commercial resource, first for the Natatorium, then grand homes along Warm Springs Avenue, and eventually many buildings downtown.  The water originates as rain and melting snow in the mountains to the north, which then percolates down along deep fracture zones to hot zones nearly a mile deep, possibly taking thousands of years before emerging naturally along other fracture zones.  In the Table Rock area, the warm springs are associated with fractures in the rhyolite, which is exposed on one side of a major fault and deeply buried on the other.

Remnant alkali flat

Prior to being diverted for geothermal development, the warm springs would have supported a unique wetland habitat, only hints of which currently remain.  In addition to the warmer temperatures, which would have ameliorated winter conditions, the hot springs emerging from deep underground were more alkaline and mineral-laden than surface run-off and shallow springs elsewhere in the batholith-dominated Boise Front.  As a result, the Reserve is one of the few sites on the north side of Boise where alkali flats and their associated species can be found, in contrast to the abundance of such habitats on the south side of the Snake River Plains and the typically alkaline soils of the Treasure Valley.  Examples of this remnant flora are highlighted in the wildflower walk description.

Wood, S.H., and Burnham, W.L., 1987, Geological framework of the Boise Warm Springs geothermal area, Idaho, in Buess, S.S., ed., Rocky Mountain Section of the Geological Society of America, Centennial Field Guide, v. 2, p. 117–122.

NATIVE AMERICAN SIGNIFICANCE:  Prior to the arrival of Euro-Americans, the Boise Valley was shared by several tribal nations, primarily the Shoshone, Bannock, and Northern Paiute.  They were sometimes collectively referred to by others as Snake Indians, providing the current name for the major river that flowed though their territory.  The three tribes traditionally spoke related Uto-Aztecan languages, followed a hunter-gatherer subsistence culture, practiced shamanistic vision quest spirituality, and generally maintained peaceable relations with one another.  Although the Bannock language is closer to Paiute than to Shoshone, Bannock culture had become increasingly merged with Shoshone culture; the two groups have accordingly become known as the Shoshone-Bannock nation, or “Sho-Ban” for short.  By the time Euro-Americans arrived in what would eventually be southern Idaho, the Shoshone-Bannock had already incorporated horses into their culture (probably via the Comanche, a related tribal nation), along with some of the more valor-oriented characteristics of the Plains horse-cultures, although bison rarely wandered as far west as the Boise Valley.

Detail from interpretive signage at Bonneville Point

Regional environmental conditions favored a relatively mobile life style, with individual bands relocating around their territory throughout the year to take advantage of available foods and favorable temperatures.  The Shoshone-Bannock territories mostly encompassed higher-elevation valleys and mountains in central Idaho, while the Paiute culture was adapted more to the expansive sagebrush steppe and pinyon-juniper woodlands of the Great Basin.  At the end of summer, numerous groups would gather in the Boise Valley, coinciding with the abundant salmon runs that were also described by emigrants on the Oregon Trail.  Fur trapper Donald McKenzie described a gathering of 10,000 indigenous people in 1819, scattered along the Boise River for more than seven miles (in A. Ross, “Fur Hunters of the Far West”, 1855).  Then as now, relatively mild winter temperatures also made the area a popular site for over-wintering, with some bands remaining along the river throughout the summer as well.  It is likely that they tended, and possibly intentionally planted, culturally important plants near preferred dwelling sites.  The Table Rock-Eagle Rock area and associated warm springs were, and remain, a particularly significant sacred area for the displaced tribal people, important for healing and spiritual purposes.  The hot springs once fed into bathing ponds that were ascribed with medicinal properties, frequented not only by the resident tribes but also by travelers from other tribes.  The surrounding slopes were used as a major burial site, and the area remains a gathering site where the spirits of the ancestors can be honored.

The discovery of gold in the Boise Basin and Owyhee Mountains in 1862 quickly led to both an influx of Euro-Americans and the establishment of Fort Boise at the mouth of Rocky Canyon (differing from an earlier Fort Boise at the mouth of the Boise River near Parma), near a primary road to the Boise Basin.  With this military backing, the inevitable conflict between the original inhabitants and the encroaching miners and settlers gave rise to the Treaty of Fort Boise in 1864, in which the Shoshone-Bannock were forced to cede their territory in the Boise River drainage in exchange for treatment as a “most favored nation” and support from the United States.  The treaty was never ratified by the U.S. Senate, and the provision of “most favored nation” was certainly never realized; vigilantes nevertheless began to persecute and evict Native Americans even before a reservation was established.  This ugly period in Boise’s history was later depicted in a controversial WPA mural in the old Ada County Courthouse, which includes the lynching of a Native American.

The official responsibility for enforcing this and comparable treaties fell to the military posted at Fort Boise and other outposts throughout the West, which found themselves in the unenviable position of fulfilling the demands of Euro-American settlers while still providing some measure of protection for the Native Americans in their charge.  Regrettably, many of the soldiers were battle-hardened recent veterans of the American civil war, who readily adapted to the brutal pursuit of resisting groups.  Surrender meant custody under marginal conditions in encampments, including on the outskirts of the booming new settlement of Boise City, where for several years hundreds of tribal members tried to eke out a living while ravaged by hunger, exposure, and disease.  Conditions were such that David W. Ballard, Idaho’s territorial governor at that time, pleaded with the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington for a more equitable resolution:  “The Indians of southern Idaho are fast fading away, and as we occupy their root grounds, converting them into fields and pastures, we must either protect them or leave them to the destroying elements now surrounding them.”  In 1869, after suffering in the encampments for five years, most of the Shoshone-Bannock survivors near Boise were marched to the newly established Fort Hall Reservation in eastern Idaho, while the Shoshone-Paiutes primarily ended up in Duck Valley Reservation on the Nevada border.  Members of extended families were often separated, with some scattered among reservations in Oregon and Washington, including the short-lived Malheur Indian Reservation (succeeded by the Burns Paiute Reservation) and the Warm Springs Reservation.

Common camas
Common camas (Camassia quamash)

Conditions on the reservations were at first only marginally better than the encampments, with provisions promised by the treaties in short supply.  Faced with famine conditions in 1878, tribal members from the Fort Hall Reservation attempted to assert their right to the camas (Camassia quamash) fields of Camas Prairie in present-day Camas and Gooding counties.  Continued access to this critical food source was supposed to be in the treaty, but “Camas Prairie” had been mistakenly entered as “Kansas Prairie” on the paperwork, so when the starving Native Americans arrived they found that Euro-American settlers had already staked claim to the area and turned their cattle and hogs loose in the camas fields.  In desperation, about 200 Bannock and Paiute warriors decided to go to war, with the resulting conflict now referred to as the Bannock War of 1878.  The last armed conflict between Native Americans and Euro-Americans in Idaho, called the Sheepeater War, took place the following year; it ended in the confinement of the Sheepeater band of central Idaho Shoshone to Fort Hall Reservation.

Wing-fruited or white mariposa lily (Calochortus eurycarpus)

Only a decade after Fort Hall Reservation was theoretically set aside for Native Americans, it unfortunately turned out to be the optimum location for an expanding railroad network.  Rapid encroachment by Euro-American squatters and a new treaty pushed through by the powerful Union Pacific Railroad lobby resulted in the entire southern half of the original reservation being opened up to a land rush in 1902, setting the stage for present-day Pocatello (ironically named for a Shoshone chief).  As one short-lived compensation for a railroad right-of-way across the Fort Hall reservation, tribal members were allowed free travel on trains.  Mary Hallock Foote used this as a plot element in her 1894 novella “The Trumpeter” (in Cup of Trembling and Other Stories).  Even though fictionalized, the story captures the continued presence of occasional Native Americans in the Boise area during this period, as well as the unflattering attitudes of Euro-American Boiseans towards them.   Foote used various wildflowers metaphorically to represent the “wild” nature of the story’s mixed heritage protagonist Meta: “They called her amongst themselves, by the name they give to the mariposa lily [Calochortus sp.], the closed bud of which is pure white as the whitest garden lily; but as each Psyche-wing petal opens it is mooned at the base with a dark purplish stain which marks the flower with a startling beauty, yet to some eyes seems to mar it as well.  With every new bud the immaculate promise is renewed; but the leopard cannot change his spots nor the wild hill lily her natal stain.”

Confinement to reservations was only one more chapter in an unfolding story, with the fundamental challenge being that of finding a path forward that allows Native Americans to pursue realistic economic opportunities while still maintaining their cultural identity and dignity in a world significantly changed from that of their ancestors.  Among the steps along this path was the 1924 acquisition of United States citizenship for all Native Americans born in the United States, followed a generation later by the right to vote in Idaho (HJR 2, in 1950).  This effectively resulted in dual citizenship for tribal members, since the original sovereignty of tribal nations as recognized in the U.S. Constitution is still in effect.  This sovereignty provided the foundation for a major improvement toward economic self-sufficiency with the 1987 Supreme Court affirmation of tribal rights to gambling, which led to the development of casinos on many reservations, including Fort Hall.  The reservations continue to be home to most descendants of the displaced tribal members, but others have taken on the challenge of making their livelihood off the reservation, with many now living in the Boise Valley.

A new chapter began locally in 1990, when a proposal for a new housing development that would have impacted the Eagle Rock burial sites triggered a joint campaign by the East End Neighborhood Association and Native American tribal members at the Fort Hall and Duck Valley reservations.  The campaign was successful, and the land was purchased from the developer by EENA, the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, and the City of Boise.  The area was initially named Castle Rock Reserve, and 3,000 native plants were reintroduced to the site to signify healing.  In 2019, the Reserve and adjacent Quarry View Park were renamed Chief Eagle Eye Reserve ( (Ige dai Teviwa) and Eagle Rock Park (Pava Kwiina’a Tiipe), honoring the area’s indigenous people.  Chief Eagle Eye was the leader of 70 Weiser Shoshone who refused to to relocate to the reservation; he is buried at the top of Timber Butte north of Emmett, a significant regional source of much of the obsidian used to make arrowheads and other weapons.  The trails have also been renamed to acknowledge the tribal nations whose traditional territory this area represents.

The successful defense against further development of this culturally significant site also set the stage for Return of the Boise Valley People, an annual unity gathering for descendants of the tribal diaspora.  The gathering, which takes place in June at Eagle Rock Park and additional venues as needed, provides an opportunity for sharing culture, oral histories, and food, as well as healing and reconciliation.  In 2017, Boise mayor David Bieter proclaimed 8 June 2017 to be Return of the Boise Valley People Day.  A priority goal is the establishment of a long-overdue cultural center, with the dual purpose of ensuring cultural continuity with younger generations, and to share their history and continued presence with other inhabitants of the Boise Valley.  Still Indigenous.  Still Here.

When you visit Chief Eagle Eye Reserve, treat it with the same respect that would be proper if you were visiting a cathedral, temple, mosque, or shrine.  “Listen closely and you may hear a faint whisper on the breeze saying . . . tread gently for you are on sacred ground.”  Going beyond the opportunity to acknowledge other humans who have been here before you, use your visit to expand your connection with all species who share this planet with us.  “[I was] taught how to introduce myself to a natural place: a spring, a hillside full of wildflowers. Just sitting there with buzzing pollinators, watching the hummingbirds come up in the meadow in the morning sun. Being taught that every unique species is a different spirit that has a right to be acknowledged, that has its own life history requirements, what it needs to live. Learning that you have a responsibility to understand that, to know it, to reaffirm your responsibility for that, and to care for that as a human being.”  [from Sacred Pollinators, an interview with research ecologist Frank. K. Lake, Flora 4(1); 16]

Some references for cultural history:

Chief Eagle Eye Reserve History. City of Boise.  https://www.cityofboise.org/departments/parks-and-recreation/parks/chief-eagle-eye-reserve/chief-eagle-eye-reserve-history/

Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.  http://www2.sbtribes.com/about/#

Derig, B.  1996.  Roadside History of Idaho.  Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana.

MacGregor, C. L.  2006.  Boise, Idaho, 1882-1910: Prosperity in Isolation.  Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana.

Walker, D. E. 1978.  Indians of Idaho.  University of Idaho Press, Moscow, Idaho.

 

SELF-GUIDED WILDFLOWER WALK:  The relatively short  loop (about 1½ miles) has several access points, with the most parking available at the main trailhead for the popular hike to Table Rock.  However, the walk as described here begins at Eagle Rock Park (Pava Kwiina’a Tiipe, previously Quarry View Park), north of Old Penitentiary Road.  Look for a couple of sandstone boulders in the park with plaques that provide additional geological information, as well as shells and fossil wood.  Access to Chief Eagle Eye Reserve ( (Ige dai Teviwa, previously Castle Rock Reserve) is at the northwest (left) corner of the park.

Eagle Rock from SW corner of reserve.

The southwest corner of the reserve is a weedy meadow dominated by non-native grasses, mostly quackgrass (Elymus repens, previously in Agropyron), with scattered Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila) and Russian-olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia).  Fall-blooming curly-cup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa) is common along the path, here and throughout the foothills.  The prominent outcrop on the hillside to your right is Eagle Rock, also known as Castle Rock.  At the junction in a patch of sandbar willow (Salix exigua), turn right onto the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Trail (#19A).

Alkali scald.

The first habitat of interest is a barren-looking alkali scald (also called slickspot or playa), indicative of the former hot springs.  Around the edges is the smaller, clay-loving variety of rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa var. oreophila, previously in Chrysothamnus), whose yellow flowers are an important food source for pollinators in the fall.  The alkaline nature of the local soils is also indicated by the abundance of non-native kochia or burningbush (Bassia scoparia, previously in Kochia).

Wetland at Chief Eagle Eye Reserve

Overflow from the geothermal well has maintained a willow-lined wetland on the south (right) side of the path, paralleling the boundary with Eagle Rock Park.  Signs warn against entering the wetland, since the unpredictable release of scalding water can cause serious harm, especially to unwary dogs.  With proper caution, following one of several unofficial paths to the edge of the wetland might allow you to spot several late-blooming “comps” (i.e., members of the Asteraceae/Compositae family), including one or two species of aster (Symphyotrichum spp.) and one of the only local populations of giant goldenrod (Solidago gigantea), whose glabrous stems help distinguish it from the more common rough goldenrod (Solidago lepida).  The central marsh area is dominated by common spikerush (Eleocharis palustris) and Baltic rush (Juncus balticus); cattails (Typha latifolia), common willow-herb (Epilobium ciliatum), western goldenrod (Euthamia occidentalis), invasive purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), and Torrey’s rush (Juncus torreyi) are also present.

Whether you choose to return to the main path or continue along the informal trails that parallel the wetland, take note of povertyweed (Iva axillaris), an odd-looking native in the sunflower flower.  Be sure also to enjoy the diversity in flower size and color in annual willowherb (Epilobium brachycarpum), abundant throughout the reserve.  In addition, you might spot a few sunflower (Helianthus annuus) still in bloom, along with such non-natives as chicory (Cichorium intybus), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), two-scale orache (Atriplex heterosperma), and invasive rush skeletonweed (Chondrilla juncea).  The conspicuous reddish-brown spikes of curly dock (Rumex crispus) contribute a nice touch of fall coloration.  A lone greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus), perched atop a rubble pile, may be the last representative of a shrub that was probably once common on the local alkali flats but which is now rare anywhere in the Boise Front.

Unusual form of Rosa woodsii behind warning sign.

Variation in the native Rosa woodsii is on display in this wetland as well.  In addition to typical intermountain rose (R. woodsii ssp. ultramontana), which is the common form in this part of Idaho, there are some plants (such as the one behind the warning sign) that differ in having solitary flowers, somewhat blunter leaflets, and abundant glands on the foliage.  Trying to make sense of variation in wild roses is exceptionally challenging, due in part to their morphological plasticity and propensity for hybridization, so it remains to be determined what significance this particular variant represents.

Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

Back on the main trail, you will encounter the first of several stands of tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), a fast-growing, grove-forming, pinnate-leaved tree that can be invasive.  Because of its medicinal and cultural significance, tree-of-heaven was often planted by Chinese immigrants trying to make a better life for themselves and their families in gold-rush California (gam saan, “Gold Mountain”) and elsewhere in the West.  Although little physical evidence now remains, the Chinese community was prominent in Boise’s early history, declining in the face of increasing discrimination and outright persecution that included the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act on the national level.   At least in California, old groves of tree-of-heaven are often indicators of former Chinese settlements; it is tempting to speculate that the tree-of-heaven groves locally also indicate that there was once a Chinese settlement here, perhaps using the warm springs to water precursors of the Chinese gardens that gave Garden City its name, along with Chinden Boulevard.

Inland saltgrass (Distichlis spicata)

When the trail intersects the access road to the Warm Springs Water District pumphouse, a short detour to the right takes you to a nice patch of interior saltgrass (Distichlis spicata) where the road crosses the drainage.  This alkali-tolerant grass is another survivor from the original warm springs wetlands, earning its common name by excreting crystals of salt on its leaves.  The species has been investigated as an easy- or no-care turfgrass alternative, especially for slightly alkaline soils (like much of the Treasure Valley), since it can form dense stands that remain less than a foot tall.  A good example has been thriving for years in the sidewalk strip along 16th Street between Bannock and Idaho streets in Boise, in spite of neglect and abuse.  One drawback is that the grass doesn’t stay green as long as desirable, especially with no supplemental watering.

Trail to Eagle Rock

To continue the loop, follow the main trail as it curves left behind the pumphouse, continue straight on the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes Loop (#19), and then take two lefts to follow the trail as it angles up the hillside towards Eagle Rock.  Note how the soil is heavy clay, deeply cracked when dried, in contrast to the sandier soils more common in the foothills.  This is because the parent rock is claystone, basalt, and rhyolite, rather than granite, as mentioned under Geology.  The slope is dominated by weeds, in particular the invasive (and highly flammable) annual grasses medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae, previously in Elymus), which flourishes on clay soils, and feral rye (Secale cereale).  Some bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) and a few late-season natives manage to persist, including curlycup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), hoary aster (Dieteria canescens, previously in Machaeranthera), and an abundance of annual willowherb (Epilobium brachycarpum); you might also spot some pods of showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa).  What you will not see at this time of year is Andrus’s biscuitroot (Lomatium andrusianum), a recently recognized species that is abundant along this trail in spring.

Littleleaf brickellbush (Brickellia microphylla)

The most noteworthy plants on this slope occur mostly on the rhyolite outcrops, including Eagle Rock itself.  The recommended period for this wildflower walk is in fact chosen to coincide with the blooming period of littleleaf brickellbrush (Brickellia microphylla).  This creamy-flowered shrub is common on the opposite side of the Snake River Plains, and also the Hells Canyon area, but the rhyolite outcrops of the Reserve and Rocky Canyon are the only places it has been found on the north side of the Snake River Plains.  There are also a few patches of plains prickly-pear (Opuntia polycantha) at one of its only localities in the Boise Front, though the striking magenta flowers will be long gone by fall.  Both species can be easily seen by taking a short side path into a quarried hollow to the right of the main trail, shortly before reaching Eagle Rock.  it is tempting to think of the prickly-pear as a culturally important plant that was intentionally brought to the site by Native Americans, though its presence in a post-settlement quarry argues against this idea.  Also keep an eye out for broom buckwheat (Eriogonum vimineum) near the quarry, covered with tiny pink flowers; like most other annual buckwheats, its inclination to be in peak bloom when most sensible annuals have already gone to seed and dried up is a bit of a puzzler.

Caloplaca and other lichens on Eagle Rock.

Enjoy the expansive view while treading carefully on Eagle Rock, not only out of respect for its importance to Native Americans but also to minimize damage to the colorful crustose lichens, which look a bit like paint splotches.  These intriguing organisms are actually a close symbiosis between various fungi, which provide the tough matrix, and photosynthetic algae.  Although amazingly hardy and long-lived, they can easily be destroyed by repeated foot traffic, so try to avoid stepping on areas that have not already been scoured away.  One of the more interesting is the bright red-orange Caloplaca sp., which depends on the high nitrogen leaching from the “whitewash” deposited by perching raptors.  Other locally common lichens include wall lichen (Lecanora muralis), which makes rounded gray-green colonies, and descriptively named egg yolk lichen (Candellariella sp.)  [Lichen determinations provided by Roger Rosentreter.  Species pages for non-vascular plants and other organisms have not (yet) been created for this website, though this would be a desirable long-term goal.]

Trail northwest of Eagle Rock.

Continue straight (northwest) on Shoshone-Paiute Tribes Loop, where you might spot some white flowers of eyelashweed (Blepharipappus scaber) still in bloom.  The gradually descending trail crosses a stretch of nicely exposed layers of rhyolite before widening into an old quarry road as it enters a thick band of silicified sandstone.  Note the different plants that grow on this different substrate:  basin big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. tridentata) and three-awn grass (Aristida purpurea var. longiseta) are now common, and the rubber rabbitbrush is a larger, grayer variety (Ericameria nauseosa var. hololeuca) than the variety that is most common elsewhere in the Reserve.  Take note also of any plants starting to escape from adjacent landscaping surrounding the homes on the ridge above; hardy pampasgrass (Tripidium ravennae, previously in Saccharum) is particularly worrisome in this regard.  More tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) grows here, sometimes intermingled with look-alike staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), which differs in having finely hairy stems, fuzzy red fruit, and leaves that turn bright red in fall.  There is also a solitary juniper (Juniperus sp.); although several native species of juniper are abundant in the mountains south of the Snake River Plains, for some unknown reason only sporadic non-native junipers occur in the Boise Front.

Sickle saltbush (Atriplex gardneri var. falcata)

Take the sharp left-hand turn as the loop trail begins its zigzag descent, cutting through a dense grove of tree-of-heaven.  Once you reach the bottom of the slope, keep an eye out for another alkali scald on the left side of the trail, shortly before reaching another junction.  This is the only place known in the Boise Front where sickle saltbush (Atriplex gardneri var. falcata, previously A. nuttallii) persists, as another survivor from the vanished warm springs environment.  This subshrub, which blooms in late spring/early summer, has separate male and female plants.

Drainage slough at edge of Chief Eagle Eye Reserve

For one more habitat type, a short side trip to the right at the junction just past the sickle saltbush population will take you to the nearby drainage slough, with a shady grove of willows at the north end.  You might some common evening-primrose (Oenothera biennis) still in bloom, and maybe some western goldenrod (Euthamia occidentalis).  The sunny wetland has cattails (Typha latifolia), soft-stem bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani, previously Scirpus validus), common spikerush (Eleocharis palustris).  The self-guided walk description ends here, from which point you can head south back to Eagle Rock Park.

NOTE: Please enjoy the wildflowers and leave them for others to enjoy.  Because our unique local flora is already under pressure from invasive weeds and habitat loss, harvesting of native plants is not encouraged on this website, especially along popular trails.

Shafer Butte Loop

SHAFER BUTTE LOOP WILDFLOWER WALK
July through August

Wildflowers on Shafer Butte

Shafer Butte Loop is one of the premier wildflower walks in the Boise Front, with extraordinary displays of mountain wildflowers throughout the summer, a wide diversity of habitats, and outstanding views in all directions (at least if not blocked by smoke).  At elevations mostly above 7000′, the walk also provides a refreshing respite from the summer heat in the valley floor 4000′ lower down.  The complete loop is about 4½ miles long, with 620′ elevation gain; give yourself enough time to enjoy the flowers and views, as well as travel time to Pioneer Lodge where the walk begins.

View to Sawtooth Range from Shafer Butte.

ABOUT SHAFER BUTTE:  Shafer Butte (7582′) and nearby Mores Mountain (7237′) are the highest points on the Boise Ridge, essentially functioning as elevational “islands” at the very edge of the northern Rocky Mountains.  Although the mid-elevation mixed conifer forest is relatively continuous to the north and east, except where too hot or dry, the Boise Ridge as a whole is separated from the rest of the Idaho Batholith by the Mores Creek/Grimes Creek drainage to the east and the Harris Creek/Granite Creek divide between Horseshoe Bend and Idaho City to the north.  With a high point of 5200′ at Harris Creek Summit, these drainages and divides serve as barriers to plants that are restricted to higher elevations, and beyond are additional barriers created by the complex network of drainages that dissect the Boise Mountains.  Among the archipelago of other scattered peaks that exceed 7000′ in this part of Idaho, the closest to Shafer Butte are Hawley Mountain (7293′) 15 miles to the north and Thorn Creek Butte (7515′) 17 miles to the east.   The closest significantly larger expanse of high elevations is Trinity Mountain (9451′), 35 miles to the east; the crest of the popular Sawtooth Range is 50 miles away.

Shafer Butte form of common paintbrush (Castilleja miniata)

The island nature of Shafer Butte is amplified by its location at the very edge of the Idaho Batholith and Rocky Mountains, an outlier in the archipelago of isolated peaks of comparable elevation to the north and east.  Its south and west slopes overlook the western Snake River Plains on the northern edge of the Intermountain Desert, with distant views of the Owyhee Range and uplands to the south and the Blue Mountains to the west.  One result is a rich diversity of habitats as the peak is circumnavigated, from dry rocky south-facing slopes to moist meadows and conifer forests on the northeast side, artificially enhanced by wildflower-rich meadows where brush is cleared for ski runs.  Another likely result of the island-like isolation is local endemism (i.e., species unique to a geographically restricted area), at least genetically.  No plants are currently considered endemic to Shafer Butte, but this might simply indicate that the flora has not previously been given the attention it deserves; the lure of higher mountains in Idaho’s backcountry has disproportionately determined the summer destination of the relatively few local botanists.  A prime candidate for overlooked endemism is the common paintbrush (Castilleja miniata), which is consistently crimson (violet-red) on Shafer Butte, in contrast to the characteristic scarlet (orange-red) color of populations just below the conifer zone.  Several other plants growing on this island peak are also slightly different from those found growing elsewhere and deserving of further study.

Summit of Shafer Butte.

Even though not flat-topped, Shafer Butte and several other comparable peaks are sometimes called buttes locally, particularly if the summit area is barren of trees.  This absence of trees is not an indication of normal timberline, which is several thousand feet higher in central Idaho, but is more likely the result of insufficient soil moisture on the rocky exposed summits to sustain trees through the hot dry summers.  These scattered peaks are also prime locations for a variety of uses, historically for fire lookouts and more recently for communication towers; the summit of Shafer Butte is no exception, with a restricted-access road to the top and a plethora of communication and other structures.  It is also the upper terminus for two ski-lifts of the non-profit Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area:  Superior Express and Pine Creek Express.  Regular skiers on Bogus Basin will enjoy seeing the different face the mountain puts on in summer.

View north from Tempest Trail.

SELF-GUIDED WILDFLOWER WALK:  The 4½ mile loop begins and ends at the Pioneer Lodge parking area at 6770 feet and soon climbs to 7390 feet, followed by a circumnavigation and gradual descent around the summit of Shafer Butte.  The walk is described counterclockwise with the recommendation of starting no later than mid-morning, so that the exposed south-facing slope can be traversed before midday heat.  Be sure to bring sufficient water for several hours, especially on hot days.  Although unlikely, be alert for signs of altitude sickness, primarily if recently coming from sea level.  Sturdy footwear and a hat are recommended; hiking poles may help with balance, though most trails are well-graded.  About two-thirds of the loop consists of single-track trails shared with mountain bikes, so it is often a good idea to avoid peak cyclist times (though the longer Round the Mountain loop at lower elevations is preferred by most mountain bikers).

Patience dock (Rumex patientia)

Pioneer Lodge is part of the Bogus Basin Recreation Area, accessible on a paved (except for a short stretch through the lower parking area) but windy road.  Park in the public portion of the lot, not that reserved for condominium use.  For those wishing to enjoy a scenic ride for a modest fee, the Morning Star chairlift provides an alternate means to reach the starting point from the lower base area parking. One plant to take note of in the parking area itself is patience dock (Rumex patientia), which looks like the common curlydock (Rumex crispus) on steroids.  This is recently arrived invasive species that is unfortunately making itself at home at Bogus Basin and a few other sites in the Boise Front.  Spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe ssp. australis, previously C. maculosa) is another invasive species that is well-established here and elsewhere in Bogus Basin.

Flower-filled meadow near Pioneer Lodge.

From the parking lot, head uphill behind the lodge, keeping left to skirt the bicycle-only area and chairlift terminus.  A good introduction to some of the showy wildflowers that are common on the loop is provided by a meadow on the north side of the designated walking trail.  Depending on the season, you can enjoy displays of blue-flowered taperleaf penstemon (Penstemon attenuatus var. militaris), yellow-flowered Idaho woodbeauty (Drymocallis glabrata, previously Potentilla glandulosa var. glabrata), pink-flowered sticky geranium (Geranium viscosissimum), lavender-flowered silky lupine (Lupinus sericeus), white-flowered wing-fruited sego lily (Calochortus eurycarpus), and yellow-flowered sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum, mostly var. stragulum).  The grasses are primarily intentionally planted species, most notably smooth brome (Bromus inermis) that is capable of eventually displacing much of the native wildflower diversity.

South end of Lodge Trail.

Turn left on LODGE TRAIL/Lodge Cat Road (#140), used as a snowcat track during skiing season.  Douglas-fir  (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) are the dominant trees throughout the hike, with an occasional quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) in relatively moist sites.  Common shrubs include snowbrush ceanothus (Ceanothus velutinus), bittercherry (Prunus emarginata), Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum), Scouler’s willow (Salix scouleriana), and mountain snowberry (Symphoricarpos rotundifolius var. vaccinioides, previously S. oreophilus), along with an occasional mountain-ash (Sorbus scopulina) and mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana).

Horsemint, Oregon sunshine, and little sunflower on Lodge Trail.

The roadcuts along Lodge Trail provide habitat for a rich diversity of wildflowers; in addition to those already mentioned, look for little sunflower (Helianthella uniflora), horsemint (Agastache urticifolia), scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata), Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), western columbine (Aquilegia formosa), arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta), western sweetroot (Osmorhiza occidentalis), ballhead gilia (Ipomopsis congesta), western hawkweed (Hieracium scouleri), spreading groundsmoke (Gayophytum diffusum), and wormleaf stonecrop (Sedum stenopetalum).  Keep an eye out in particular for patches of dwarf monkeyflower (Diplacus nanus, previously in Mimulus), tiny plants with startlingly out-sized magenta flowers.  Another unusual plant is clustered bird’s-beak (Cordylanthus captatus), a late-season dusty-looking annual that doesn’t appear to be in bloom until you look closely.  Several large plants of mountain hollyhock (Illiamna rivularis) might also be in bloom along the roadside, mostly opposite the roadcuts.

Silver lupines in peak bloom.

Turn right on TEMPEST TRAIL (#95), about half a mile from Pioneer Lodge.  This single-track trail, which zigzags up a northwest-facing slope, is where you will accomplish your primary elevation gain, so take your time to enjoy the wildflowers and views (while also keeping an eye out for cyclists!)  Sparse Douglas-fir, some beautifully old and gnarled, are scattered across the slope, which is covered with a high quality high-elevation habitat of perennial wildflowers, bunchgrasses, and low shrubs.  Silver lupine (Lupinus argenteus var. heteranthus) forms solid stands in some areas, reflecting the blue of the sky at peak bloom.  Other wildflowers that you might not yet have already seen include Coville’s paintbrush (Castilleja covilleana), blue stickseed (Hackelia micrantha), Nuttall’s linanthus (Leptosiphon nuttallii, previously Linanthastrum), gooseberry-leaf alumroot (Heuchera grossulariifolia), prickly sandwort (Eremogone aculeata, previously in Arenaria), western groundsel (Senecio integerrimus), western wallflower (Erysimum capitatum), and fernleaf biscuitroot (Lomatium multifidum).  Lewis’s flax (Linum lewisii) is native here, on contrast to its smaller-flowered counterpart that is commonly seeded in the lower foothills.  Early-season hikers might even catch mountain kittentails (Synthyris missurica) still in bloom, especially near lingering snowbanks.

Wildflowers along the Face trail

The FACE TRAIL (#93), which heads right at a marked junction on a switchback about half a mile from the Lodge Trail, cuts a mile-long transect across the southwest face of Shafer Butte.  Enjoy the view across the Boise Valley and upper Snake River Plains to the distant Owyhee Mountains (curiously sharing the same name, with an alternate spelling, as Hawai’i, in memory of three Hawai’ian members of an 1819 fur-trapping expedition who disappeared after being sent into the area to look for beaver).  Closer topographic features include the tower-studded twin summits of Deer and Doe Points to the left, and conical Stack Rock, a popular hiking and cycling destination, on the forested ridge to the right.

New wildflowers that you might see along this more exposed segment of the loop include ballhead sandwort (Eremogone congesta), Payette penstemon (Penstemon payettensis), and dusty maidens (Chaenactis douglasii) as well as a diversity of annuals such as diamond-petal farewell-to-spring (Clarkia rhomboidea), common tarweed (Madia gracilis), largeflower collomia (Collomia grandiflora), and several species of bristly-haired Cryptantha.  Large outcrops midway along the trail provide special habitat for other plants; look for Douglas’s catchfly (Silene douglasii), shrubby penstemon (Penstemon fruticosus), and Alberta penstemon (Penstemon albertinus).

Cow-parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) patch on Face trail.

Occasional seepage areas add diversity to the east part of the Face trail, with conspicuous patches of cow-parsnip (Heracleum maximum, previously H. lanatum) intermixed with mountain stinging nettle (Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis).  A narowly green-leaved form of Wyeth’s buckwheat (Eriogonum heracleoides), whose cream-colored flowers turn reddish with age, is also common along this stretch of trail, along with little sunflower (Helianthella uniflora), horsemint (Agastache urticifolia), and scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata).  A few curiously white-flowered plants combine characters of widespread sticky geranium (Geranium viscosissimum) and white geranium (Geranium richardsonii), which is not otherwise known from the Boise Front. 

Barren slope on Face trail.

Near the east end of the Face trail is an unusual barren slope of coarse sand, cause unknown, that harbors an interesting suite of plants.  The most curious is a prostrate form of fleeceflower (Aconogonon phytolaccifolium, previously in Polygonum).  Another noteworthy plant is the alpine buckwheat (Eriogonum pyrolifolium); although two varieties are commonly recognized in this species, based on leaf pubescence, both forms often grow intermixed on Shafer Butte.  Other wildflowers on this site include prickly sandwort (Eremogone aculeata), ballhead gilia (Ipomopsis congesta), Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), and a narrow-leaved form of silver lupine (Lupinus argenteus var. heterophyllus).

Wildflower display on Shafer Butte saddle

The most spectacular display of wildflowers, especially if you are lucky enough to arrive at the peak season in a good year, is the natural rock garden on the open slopes at the saddle where the loop crosses the Cabin Traverse (# 144, the access road to Shafer Butte summit).  The yellow flowers of sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) and Piper’s buckwheat (E. flavum var. piperi), blue flowers of silver lupine, and red flowers of Coville’s paintbrush (Castilleja covilleana) combine in a colorful mosaic.   After admiring the showier wildflowers, look closer for more alpine buckwheat (Eriogonum pyrolifolium) and the diminutive annual spurry buckwheat (Eriogonum spergulinum var. reddingianum), which in a good year can cover the ground with a smoky cast.  The display continues along the beginning of Elk Meadows trail, where you can also find some more typically erect fleeceflower (Aconogonon phytolaccifolium) growing at the base of a dramatic rock-face that is more sharply angled than most outcrops of Idaho batholith granite.

Near beginning of Elk Meadows trail

New habitats quickly add to the loop’s diversity as you follow ELK MEADOWS TRAIL (#94) for about a mile around the more forested east side of Shafer Butte.  After passing another lupine-covered slope, a lovely wet meadow appears on your right, full of California false hellebore or corn-lily (Veratrum californicum), northern bluebells (Mertensia paniculata var. borealis), Cusick’s corydalis (Corydalis caseana var. cusickii), western coneflower (Rudbeckia occidentalis), and western larkspur (Delphinium occidentale).  Shrubs around the margins include mountain-ash (Sorbus scopulina) and black elderberry (Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa).  The path itself cuts across a drier portion of the flat, brightened mid-season with yellow Idaho wood-beauty (Drymocallis glabrata) and blue taperleaf penstemon (Penstemon attenuatus var. militaris), changing to purple at the end of summer with thickstem aster (Eurybia integrifolia, previously in Aster).

View east from shaded resting site on Elk Meadows trail.

The path jogs to the right as it enters a shaded grove (at least as of 2020; many of the trees are marked for logging with the blue ring of death).  Take time to look for western columbine (Aquilegia formosa), western meadowrue (Thalictrum occidentale, which has leaves very similar to those of the columbine), licorice-scented western sweetroot (Osmorhiza occidentalis), and monotypic kelloggia (Kelloggia galioides, named for Albert Kellogg, one of the more eccentric founders of the California Academy of Sciences).  Farther along the path crosses an open stretch, kept clear for the Wildcat ski run (Black Diamond).  Shortly before the Pine Creek Express lift is a perfect rest spot (if not already occupied), in the cleared ground beneath a dense grove of trees on a small knoll left of the path.  Enjoy the view looking across the mountains to the east; try to pick out Trinity Mountain and Soldier Mountains to the right, Smoky Mountains in the distant middle, and the jagged white peaks of the Sawtooth Mountain on the horizon to the left.  You can also look for the small white flowers of Menzies’s catchfly (Silene menziesii), tucked at the base of some of the trees.

Open slope at N end of Elk Meadows trail.

Elk Meadows trail continues through a sequence of more patches of wet meadow with California corn-lily (Veratrum californicum), cow-parsnip (Heracleum maximum), and fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium, previously in Epilobium), and cleared ski runs, where the Shafer Butte form of the common paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) is abundant, along with regularly sheared mountain snowberry (Symphoricarpos rotundifolius var. vaccinioides, previously S. oreophilus).  An open lupine-covered slope, eroded with runoff from late-lingering snowpack, deserves a closer look.  Keep an eye out in particular for pussypaws (Calyptridium umbellatum), growing with its look-alike alpine buckwheat (Eriogonum pyrolifolium).  Late-season color is provided by two similar yellow-flowered shrubs:  the montane form of rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa, previously in Chrysothamnus) and Greene’s goldenbrush (Ericameria greenei), in addition to vivid fall foliage and the red berries of mountain-ash (Sorbus scopulina).

Mores Mountain from Shafer Butte

Mores Mountain comes into view as Elk Meadows trail wraps around to the north side of Shafer Butte; a future wildflower walk is planned for its excellent network of pedestrian-only trails and natural rock-gardens on its craggy outcrops.  The single-track trail soon ends and rejoins the road back to Pioneer Lodge (a final mile or so to go!)  Keep to the left at the fork where an unmarked road drops down to connect with Mores Mountain, and continue straight on Lodge Road (#140) where the Packing Trail (#149) doubles back to the left and zigzags up to the summit. One noteworthy plant in the along this stretch is the mountain lupine (Lupinus argenteus var. argentatus), a green-leaved relative of the more common silver lupine (Lupinus argenteus var. heteranthus).

Seepage slope on Shafer Butte Loop

A short distance past the Packing Trail junction is a lovely seepage-covered slope with small springs flowing next to the road that merits a closer look.  The conspicuous large plants are California false hellebore (Veratrum californicum), northern bluebells (Mertensia paniculata var. borealis), Cusick’s corydalis (Corydalis caseana var. cusickii), white angelica (Angelica arguta), Lewis’s monkeyflower (Erythranthe lewisii), arrowleaf groundsel (Senecio triangularis), and mountain stinging nettle (Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis).  Heartleaf springbeauty (Claytonia cordifolia) grows tucked in the shade along the streamlets, and you might even find a few leaves of heartleaf cardamine (Cardamine cordifolia) which is currently known in the Boise Front only from this site, and not yet found in flower.  Unfortunately, invasive reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) also has a foothold here, and has the potential to displace the rich wildflower diversity.

Squaw Butte from Shafer Butte

The road then crosses several more cleared ski runs and passes under the Superior chairlift, completing the loop at the base of Tempest Trail.  In addition to keeping an eye out for wildflowers that you overlooked at the beginning of the walk, or which are now open or in better lighting, take time to admire the view to the northwest.  The dark ridge in the middle distance is Squaw Butte, an isolated fault block at the southeastern edge of the massive Columbia Basalt flows.  The Blue Mountains in Oregon form the horizon in the background, with the often snow-capped Wallowa Mountains to the right, peeking around the Cuddy Mountains.


Logging at Bogus Basin

NOTE ON FIRE CONTROL EFFORTS:  A major tree-removal project (aka logging) is currently underway in the area around Shafer Butte, initiated in 2019 to reduce the risk of devastating fires especially given the increasing number of dead and dying Douglas-fir trees.  Fires are certainly a real concern, and the evident tree mortality is indisputable, but in my analysis the proposed solution should be understood as fundamentally experimental, with long-term consequences remaining to be determined.  There is strong evidence that many forest types depend on regular fires to keep fuels at non-destructive levels, and that fire-suppression efforts during the last century have resulted in overly dense forests and the build-up of fuels (aka living and dead plants) in the understory.  Uncertainties include the extent that this applies to all forest types, how equivalent mechanical thinning efforts are to regular fires, the relative importance of other contributing factors such as climate change and highly flammable invasive species, and the likelihood of any follow-up management needed in the long run.

Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium douglasii) in fruit

Most media coverage (e.g., “Logging starts at Bogus Basin in major forest health project“) tends to focus on Douglas-fir dwarf-mistletoe (Arceuthobium douglasii) as the primary culprit behind tree mortality.  However, this native species is probably analogous to lice;  unlikely to lead to death in a healthy individual, but potentially increasingly dramatically and ultimately contributing to mortality in an already stressed tree.  The plant itself is an inconspicuous parasite that requires a close look to spot, but the host tree often responds by developing a dense growth called “witch’s broom” (which can also be caused by fungi and other factors).  These growths can be conspicuous on many (but not all) dead and dying trees, easily leading to the conclusion that they are the cause of death, but they are also often present (with or without dwarf mistletoe) on otherwise healthy trees.

Dead and dying trees on the Boise Ridge

Given all this, what might be stressing the forest around Bogus Basin?  The most obvious explanation is a long-term trend towards hotter and drier conditions (aka climate change), especially for trees that are already outliers teetering at the very edge of their climatic envelope for long-term survival.  On the one hand, reducing the number of trees might leave more water available for the remaining trees; on the other hand, less shade could easily result in the forest floor drying out faster, thereby increasing the drought stress and fire potential.  If the latter dominates, then thinning efforts might actually speed up the demise of the remaining trees, and the drying up of springs and other moist habitats, rather than the intended outcome.  Economic factors also often dictate that sufficient marketable trees be included in the cut, independent of what might otherwise be optimum environmentally.  Tragically, it is possible that the current natural forest on the Boise Ridge is doomed no matter what measures are taken locally, along with the various ferns, orchids, and other wildflowers that are dependent on the various unique microhabitats within the conifer zone.

Staging area for logging operation between Shafer Butte and Mores Mountain

Even in the short term, it remains to be seen how existing diversity responds to the current logging activities, including the wildflower sites profiled above.  Soil disturbance can be severe, especially in staging areas; this can benefit certain pioneering species like lupines, but other species will suffer from the disturbance and reduced shade.  Invasive non-natives, notably spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe ssp. australis) and patience dock (Rumex patientia) locally, can rapidly spread into disturbed sites, and the intentional planting of non-native perennial grasses such as smooth brome (Bromus inermis) could also significantly interfere with the recovery of native wildflowers.  Of course, a megafire would be even more devastating, so let us fervently hope that the current experiment is successful, and that all the lovely wildflowers profiled in this wildflower walk will continue to be available for all to enjoy, along with the shade- and moisture-dependent ferns, orchids, and other special wildflowers found elsewhere in the conifer zone.

Highlights of Hidden Springs Wetlands

HIGHLIGHTS OF HIDDEN SPRINGS WETLANDS WILDFLOWER WALK
mid June through July

Wetlands at Hidden Springs

As an alternative to heading to higher elevations for wildflowers during the summer months, when the foothills proper have largely dried out, check our what’s growing in your local wetlands for a whole new suite of interesting plants, some of which are just hitting their stride.  The wildflower walk described here, through the exceptionally rich remnant wetlands at Hidden Springs, is the shortest walk in the series, a half-mile ramble that is a pleasant morning or evening outing even on a hot summer day. 

Description:  The walk as described begins at the main trailhead on the south side of Dry Creek Road  between Cartwright Road and Seamans Gulch Road.  A trail at the east side of the trailhead cuts south through a selection of marshland habitats to a well-shaded bridge across Dry Creek, where the described portion of the walk ends.  Be sure to enjoy the birds as well, and don’t forget your mosquito repellent!

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

As a generalized introduction, wetland floristics differ from upland floristics in that, thanks to the ease that seeds and other propagules are transported by waterfowl, plant distribution is determined less by geographic range per se and more by water seasonality, depth, and chemistry, as well as how long the wetland habitat has existed.  Because of this, the distinction between “native” and “non-native” becomes increasingly problematic for many species, if not outright arbitrary in some cases (does the plant care if it arrived via waterfowl or human agency?)  In spite of this, some rare plants do occur as regional endemics, often threatened by wetland invaders that can shove everything else out, given the chance.  Among the worst invasive species that are present at Hidden Springs wetlands are purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), mis-named Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), and reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea).

Mowed area around central thicket at Hidden Springs wetlands.

Prior to Euro-American settlement, there were undoubtedly numerous natural wetlands on the fertile flatlands at the base of the foothills, where creeks or springs supported rich meadows throughout the summer months.  These would have been prime sites for the earliest homesteaders, who quickly converted the meadows into pastures and farmlands.  The very name “Hidden Springs” is a clue that the existing wetlands here are in fact remnants that have persisted from pre-settlement times, among the very few examples in existence locally (Council Springs being another).  Even these persisting wetlands have been variously altered; most of the Hidden Springs wetlands are regularly mowed midsummer, except for the central thicket and surrounding areas that harbor the greatest diversity.

The presence of several locally rare plants in the Hidden Springs wetlands bolsters the interpretation of this site as a persisting remnant, in particular the large stands of Nuttall’s cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis var. fastigiata) and common avens (Geum aleppicum), as well as scattered Macoun’s buttercup (Ranunculus macounii) and pale bulrush (Scirpus pallidus).  These are the special “treasures” of this particular wildflower walk; most can be seen from the trail itself, though some might require a stroll along the edge of the mowed area to spot.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Begin your walk at the east end of the parking lot, where you can easily see three conspicuous noxious weeds (if not recently mowed).  Large patches of purple-flowered Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) grow at the edge of the marsh, interspersed with tall stalks of poison-hemlock (Conium maculatum) covered with small white flowers.  Field bindweed or wild morning-glory (Convolvulus arvensis) sprawls along the edge of the path, some plants with lovely pink flowers instead of the usual white. Several other relatively showy non-natives are also present, including red clover (Trifolium pratense) and chicory (Cichorium intybus).

Marsh at Hidden Springs wetlands.

Where the path splits, take the right-hand option to follow the main cattail-lined trail bisecting the marsh.  The marsh itself is dominated by members of the three primary families of graminoids:  grasses (Poaceae), sedges (Cyperaceae), and rushes (Juncaceae).  A popular rule of thumb is that “sedges have edges while rushes are round”; while it is true that 3-angled stems are found only in Cyperaceae, and most rush stems are in fact round, there are also a lot of Cyperaceae with round stems.  True grasses differ from both in having hollow stems than are partitioned at regularly spaced nodes; the leaf that arises from each node has a sheathing base and spreading blade.  The inflorescence is the real give-away:  rushes have small but recognizable six-parted flowers, while grasses and sedges have highly reduced floral parts intermixed with various scale-like structures.  In grasses, these are organized into well-defined spikelets that are often bilaterally flattened; the scales of sedges are more often arranged in tightly overlapping spirals.

Pink-flowered form of common willow-herb (Epilobium ciliatum)

The most abundant rush in the marsh is Baltic rush (Juncus balticus), which tends to form large brownish swaths; plants in the path itself often have spirally twisted stems.  One of the most abundant members of the sedge family is common spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris), which has a single narrow inflorescence atop a cylindrical, pith-filled stem.  Common wildflowers in the marsh include pinnate-leaved yellow avens (Geum aleppicum) and both pink- and white-flowered forms of the highly variable common willow-herb (Epilobium ciliatum), both finely hairy.  Also keep an eye out for Macoun’s buttercup (Ranunculus macounii) growing opposite the first patch of cattails (Typha latifolia), and occasional palmate-leaved Nuttall’s cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis var. fastigiata).

Reed canary-grass (Phalaris arundinacea)

A stand of reed canary-grass (Phalaris arundinacea) grows next to an isolated willow (Salix sp.) on the left; left unchecked, this highly invasive grass can from monocultures in wetlands, reducing diversity and wildlife value.  A lone obtuse-leaf rose (Rosa obtusifolia) grows on the right side of the path; compare the hairy leaves to the glabrous leaves of dog rose (Rosa canina) farther down the path.  Also keep an eye out for a wet depression on the right with an abundance of water speedwell (Veronica anagallis-aquatica) and Nuttall’s cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis), surrounded by spikerush (Eleocharis palustris) and panicled bulrush (Scirpus microcarpus). 

The path wraps around a thicket consisting primarily of black hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii) and dog rosa (Rosa canina).  Among the plants growing at the moist edge of this stretch of path are rabbitsfoot grass (Polypogon monspeliensis), toad rush (Juncus bufonius), jointed rush (Juncus articulatus), and strawberry clover (Trifolium fragiferum) with its curiously swollen fruiting heads.  Large clumps of awl-fruit sedge (Carex stipata) are conspicuous just before the thicket; this is one of the more easily identified sedges, along with woolly sedge (Carex pellita) which might also be spotted here.  Catnip (Nepeta cataria) grows on the back side of the thicket, where there is also an easily accessible colony of hairy evening-primrose (Oenothera villosa ssp. strigosa).  Pale bulrush (Scirpus pallidus) grows near the thicket but is not usually visible from the path.

After paralleling the back side of the thicket for a short distance, the path cuts across a weedy area (possibly mowed) with both yellow and white color morphs of moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria), common mullein (Verbascum thapsus), and unusually pink forms of bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis); also keep an eye out for bracted verbena (Verbena bracteata). 

Dry Creek at Hidden Springs.

The guided portion of the walk ends in the gallery forest along Dry Creek, where the path crosses a sturdy bridge.  Dominant trees and shrubs include black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa), red-osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera). interior rose (Rosa woodsii ssp. ultramontana), and various willows (Salix spp.)  Look carefully and you might see some common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and American speedwell (Veronica americana) growing along the creek, and possibly western goldenrod (Eucephalus occidentalis) depending on the season.  Turn left after crossing the creek to look for twining wild-cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) and a small patch of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), whose stinging hairs can give you a rash if you brush against it.  Being careful not to touch the stinging nettle, compare it to plants of catnip (Nepeta cataria), which grows next to the bridge; the leaves are somewhat similar, but those of stinging nettle are more sharply toothed, and its tiny wind-pollinated flowers are in tassels.

Continuing wandering on your own from this point, or retrace your steps to the trailhead.

PLANT LIST [updating needed]

Plants listed in alphabetical order by genus within category. *Indicates native species (or at least possibly native; see Introduction to this walk).

Download plant list pdf

WILDFLOWERS

FERN RELATIVES

NOXIOUS AND/OR INVASIVE WEEDS (not all in bloom)

OTHER GRASSES AND GRASSLIKE PLANTS (partial list)

SHRUBS, TREES, AND WOODY VINES (mostly not in bloom)

  • *Red-osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)
  • *Black hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii)
  • Russian-olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) – invasive non-native
  • Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
  • *Black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) – other species and/or hybrids possibly present
  • *Golden currant (Ribes aureum)
  • Dog rose (Rosa canina) – non-native, invasive in some spots
  • Obtuse- or round-leaf rose (Rosa obtusifolia) — like dog rose, but leaflets hairy
  • *Interior or Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii subsp. ultramontana) – native, with slender prickles
  • *Willows (Salix spp.) – several species locally, most are difficult to distinguish
  • *Western poison-ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii, alternatively Rhus radicans) – CAUSES DERMATITIS

 

POLECAT GULCH WILDFLOWER WALK

POLECAT LOOP WILDFLOWER WALK
late March through April

THIS WALK IS CURRENTLY NOT AN OPTION AS DESCRIBED, DUE TO THE TRAIL NOW BEING PART OF A ONE-WAY LOOP AS PART OF A PILOT PROGRAM BY RIDGE-TO-RIVERS.  As so designated, the described section can only be accessed as part of a minimum 4-mile loop.  The Pilot Program is scheduled to run through November 1, 2021, after which its continuation will depend on feedback.

Polecat Loop view
Sandy slopes on east segment of Polecat Loop Trail, with best selection of wildflowers.

Description: This is no longer an easy walk for enjoying a good selection of spring wildflowers, including a diversity of tiny “belly flowers” (best enjoyed at close range). One tiny “treasure” is the elusive, eponymous Idahoa, if only for the name; a challenge to find, and in only one spot along the trail. Other special plants include the rare Aase’s onion (Allium aaseae) and uncommon hairy wild-cabbage (Caulanthus pilosus).

 

 

 

The highlighted walk is the east segment of Polecat Loop Trail (#81) paralleling Cartwright Road. The plant list covers 1.5 miles from the Cartwright Road trailhead to the southern dogleg on the path, with the option of then doubling back (for 3 miles roundtrip), or continuing for loop options with few additional flowers. Most of the recommended section is sandy, but there are stretches with more clay content that should be avoided when muddy. The single-track trail is popular with cyclists, so be alert and courteous.

 

PLANT LIST [updating needed]

NOTE: Please enjoy the wildflowers and leave them for others to enjoy.  Because our unique local flora is already under pressure from invasive weeds and habitat loss, harvesting of native plants is not encouraged on this website, especially along popular trails.

Flowering plants are listed in likely order of occurrence from trailhead; some might not yet be in bloom, or present during a particular year. * designates native plants

Download plant list pdf

BELLY FLOWERS

OTHER WILDFLOWERS IN BLOOM

SHRUBS (not in bloom)

  • *Rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria [formerly Chrysothamnus] nauseosa) — var. hololeuca is the more common larger variety; the smaller, more spindly var. oreophila is mostly on plateaus
  • *Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)most plants are ssp. tridentata, with some sporadic ssp. vaseyana (shorter plants with broader leaves, possibly planted)
  • *Bitterbrush, Antelope brush (Purshia tridentata)
  • *Netleaf hackberry (Celtis reticulata) – visible on opposite slope across Cartwright Road]

PRIMARY BUNCHGRASSES (mostly not in bloom, but evident)

SIGNIFICANT NOXIOUS WEEDS (not in bloom, but evident)

 

OREGON TRAIL WILDFLOWER WALK

OREGON TRAIL WILDFLOWER WALK
mid March through April

Description: For this wildflower walk we venture south of the Boise River, to see what’s in bloom above basalt cliffs along the Oregon Trail. Meet at Oregon Trail Recreation Area parking lot on the south side of Hwy 21/Gowen Road opposite E Lake Forest Drive (NOT the Oregon Trail Reserve accessed from E Lake Forest Drive). We’ll enjoy the early spring flowers of the basalt flats, including several not known from the foothills north of the river. Difficulty: 2-3 miles roundtrip, modest elevation gain. Heavy clay soils; avoid when muddy! No dogs, please.

[THIS WALK NOT YET EDITED]

PLANT LIST [updating needed]

Plants listed in approximate order of encounter within category. * indicates native species

Download plant list pdf

WILDFLOWERS POSSIBLY IN BLOOM

FERNS

SHRUBS

PRIMARY BUNCHGRASSES (not in bloom, but evident)

SIGNIFICANT NOXIOUS WEEDS (not in bloom, but evident)

 

MILLER GULCH WILDFLOWER WALK

MILLER GULCH WILDFLOWER WALK
early to mid May

Description: This short walk is primarily to enjoy a magnificent population of spurred or ‘polychrome’ lupine at peak bloom (and fragrance!), along with a nice selection of other locally unusual plants on good-quality habitat. The walk to the lupines is only 1 mile round-trip, with 300 feet elevation gain; several options exist for anyone wanting to go farther on Corrals Trail.

From the Miller Gulch trailhead (just past milepost 3 on Bogus Basin Road), follow the trail across a grassy west-facing slope, where you might spot foothills death-camas (Toxicoscordion aniculatum, previously in Zigadenus), our native gray-green thistle (Cirsium cymosum var. canovirens), and western hawksbeard (Crepis occidentalis).

As the trail curves around to the north side of hill, you will start seeing lupines, but keep going! Take time to appreciate the good-quality shrub-steppe habitat, with abundant perennial wildflowers, bunchgrasses, and scattered shrubs separated by open areas that are largely free of invasive annual grasses. These open areas are a critical component of this habitat type, providing critical ecosystem functions and also reducing the spread of wildfires. Among the plants you might notice are Modoc hawksbeard (Crepis modocensis), which blooms earlier and has much more divided leaves than the western hawksbeard.

Your patience eventually pays off when you reach the main lupine patch at the crest of the ridge. With luck, you will have arrived at peak bloom, when the air is scented with the fragrance given off by the lupine flowers. Although longspur lupine is the “official” common name, I like to call the populations in the Boise foothills the “polychrome lupine”, because the flowers are so wildly varied in color, even more so locally than is the norm for this species. Some of the color difference, especially on the same plant, is how the plant communicates with its pollinators (most bees); the flowers change color when they are ready for pollinating, and then change again to a different color when the have already been pollinated, or are at least past peak.

 

The plant list for this walk continues to the junction with Corrals Trail, not far beyond the main lupine patch. Doing so adds some “plateau” habitat and a few additional species, depending on the season. Possibilities include native woolly plantain (Plantago patagonica), shaggy fleabane (Erigeron pumilus var. intermedius), and Douglas’ sedge. From the junction, you have the option of turning left and continuing your walk as far as you want on Corrals Trail, retracing your route, or turning right to make a loop with Corrals trailhead and a walk along the side of the road back to Millers Gulch trailhead.

PLANT LIST [updating needed]

NOTE: Please enjoy the wildflowers and leave them for others to enjoy.  Because our unique local flora is already under pressure from invasive weeds and habitat loss, harvesting of native plants is not encouraged on this website, especially along popular trails.

Download plant list pdf

Flowering plants are listed in likely order of occurrence from trailhead; some might not yet be in bloom, or present during a particular year. * indicates native species

WILDFLOWERS

SHRUBS AND TREES (mostly not in bloom)

PRIMARY BUNCHGRASSES & GRASSLIKE PLANTS (mostly not in bloom, but evident)

SIGNIFICANT NOXIOUS WEEDS (some not yet in bloom, but evident)