Unusual Plants Abound at Metolius River Preserve

May 31, 2022
Have you visited our Metolius River Preserve? This little gem is incredibly diverse, featuring river frontage, open meadow, a rare fen, and some very unusual plants!


by Sarah Mowry

Have you visited our Metolius River Preserve? This little gem is incredibly diverse, featuring river frontage, open meadow, a rare fen, and some very unusual plants!

Unusual plants? Indeed! It turns out the fen at the Metolius River Preserve is fertile ground for some very cool botanical wonders. A fen is a type of alkaline wetland that promotes the accumulation of peat and is fed from groundwater. Common along the coast or in subalpine regions, mid-elevation fens, like the one at the Metolius River Preserve, are rare and found infrequently throughout Central Oregon. Fens are wet year-round and can remain in the same location for thousands of years. Several of our most unusual plants at the Preserve can be found in this fen, including:

Buckbean. Photo: Land Trust.
Buckbean. Photo: Land Trust.
Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata): Buckbean or bogbean is 6-18 inches tall and grows in the water at the edges of bogs, marshes, wet meadows, or, in this case, our fen! Its bright white flowers have many spiky hairs all over the surface of the petal. Come summer when they bloom, these beauties emit a foul smell to attract flies and beetles for pollination. Buckbean is considered a fen indicator, or a plant that helps define a fen as a fen. Its fruit look like garbanzo beans!




Carnivorous bladderwort. Photo: Land Trust.
Carnivorous bladderwort. Photo: Land Trust.
Carnivorous bladderwort (Utricularia minor): Yep, you read that right, we have a carnivorous plant in our fen! This species grows in the wet part of the fen floating on the surface, but it is much like an iceberg with most of its structure beneath the surface. Its long thin stems float around in the water and sport bladder-like pods that capture its prey (tiny copepods and water fleas!). These bladders have small trigger hairs that are connected to a trap door. When an unsuspecting prey brushes the hairs, the bladder sucks in the prey and the surrounding water trapping the insect in less that one millisecond!




Engelmann spruce. Photo: Land Trust.
Engelmann spruce. Photo: Land Trust.
Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii): Engelmann spruce is one of nine conifer species found at the tiny 30-acre Preserve. This species of conifer has a tall, skinny profile with deep bluish-green needles that are arranged in all directions on a twig. Engelmann spruce like moisture and can only be found in a narrow band around the fen at the Preserve and in a few moist pockets outside of the fen. In the winter, as much as 30 cm of water can accumulate in the fen helping keep those spruce nice and moist.




Peck's penstemon. Photo: John Williams.
Peck's penstemon. Photo: John Williams.
Peck’s penstemon (Penstemon peckii): Peck’s is the one unusual plant that bucks the trend and isn’t connected to the fen at the Metolius River Preserve. In fact, our Peck’s is instead found in the meadow portion of the Preserve and in some portions of the pine forest. It is adapted to disturbance and prefers growing in places where animals or water intermittently disrupt the soil. Peck’s is an unusual plant because it only grows in a small region of Central Oregon and cannot be found anywhere else in the world! The population of Peck’s at the Preserve is considered one of the best in the region.

The Metolius River Preserve can be viewed from the west bank of the Metolius River Trail starting at Lower Bridge. All other access to the Preserve is by guided tour only. We ask that you please stay on the trail to help keep wildlife and native plants (including our super cool fen plants) healthy and safe.

 

Learn more: