The Bear Basin field trip took place on a warm Indian summer morning, at Gasquet, in the first week of September. John Sawyer lead the walk and drive that took us up a back way to Bear Basin Butte, solely for the purpose of catching a disjunct population (to meet our quote of conifers for the day), of the Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in an isolated and moist tributary to the Smith River. The diversity of conifers in this region was the focus of the walk, and by the end of the day we had encountered twenty different conifers the diversity was remarkable. Bear Basin Butte is situated on Six Rivers National Forest in the Bear Basin Butte Botanical Area south of Highway 299 in the transition area between the Klamath Ranges and Siskiyou Mountains. At 5,292 feet Bear Basin Butte is a beautiful open promontory to view this ancient mountainous area. Recently an old lookout from Camp Six has been relocated and a guest barracks has been constructed (thanks to Piersons Building Supply) for the purpose of accommandating overnight vistors to this area.
Here is one of the most secluded, beautiful, and uncommon conifers, Brewer Spruce (Picea breweriana) the most mysterious Spruce of the New World (Peattie). This spruce has delicate long weeping habit is scattered on the cool and moist slopes of Bear Basin Butte. This remnant species is only known from the Siskiyou, Klamath, Trinity and Marble Mountains and is rarer still in southwest Oregon.
Another disjunct conifer population occurs here, noble fir (Abies procera), although there is confusion and debate on exactly what fir this is. John Sawyer our eminent ecologist at Humboldt State University gives an evaluation on this Klamath population below. Here it should be noted that we were fortunate to have a very agile tree climber on the walk who deftly climbed the fir in question and procured a cone, and indeed the cone bracts were extended and tapered.
"The noble fir and Shasta fir offer some challenges to the CNPSer. Botanists do not agree nor to the books, so it is reasonable for the naturalist to be wondering what to call the trees at Bear Basin Butte. Some say that noble does not occur north of Carter Lake Oregon. For them the trees at Bear Basin Butte are Shasta fir. These botanists consider that all plants in the Klamath Mountains are hybrids between noble fir and red fir.Others including the field trip leader that a different opinion. I follow Bill Critchfield who spent his professional life as a California tree geneticist with the Forest Service. He considered populations of firs with exerted, tapering bracts that grow north of the Klamath River as noble fir. Noble fir populations also grows south of the Klamath River at North Trinity Summit and along South Fork Mountain. The rest if in the Klamath Mountains have Shasta fir with blunt bracts and caudate tips.
Since firs generally create good cone seasons only about every 7 years it is hard to check out these details. Another problem is that the details of bract shape is only best judged when the cone is mature. Immature cones of both taxa look much the same. For me, the firs in the Siskiyou Mountains are noble fir. Those of the Marbles, Trinity Alps, Trinities, Salmons, Scotts, and Yolla Bollys are Shasta fir.
Why do I call it Shasta fir and not Shasta red fir. If the Klamath populations are as special as suggested by either interpretation then they may be as close to noble fir as the California red fir of the Sierra Nevada.
We left Bear Basin Butte in the mid-afternoon and finished our walk at Bucks Lake in the Siskiyou Wilderness Area along the boundary of the Six River and Klamath National Forest. This was an approximately 1 mile hike from the trailhead to Bucks Lake. Here we encountered another disjunct population, as well as are our last conifer in the golden late afternoon light, Alaska yellow cedar (Cupressus nootkatensis)
The list of the twenty conifers encountered on this field trip are as follows:
In addition to the numerous conifers we saw several uncommon and rare plants. The Del Norte manzanita (Arctostaphylos northensis, CNPS list 4) is a petite shrub found on serpentine in these area and closely resembles the Columbia manzanita (A. columbiana). Bricklebush aster (Aster brickelliodes, former CNPS, a former CNPS list 4) is a small daisy-like plant was found in full bloom on the serpentine with the Del Norte manzanita. Asters are a good fall blooming genus, blooming later than most plants and are generally at their best in late August or September and often linger into November (Clark 1976). The English Peak greenbrier (Smilax jamesii, CNPS list 1B) is a rare liliaceous vine of moist openings that we encountered on our walk to Bucks lake in fruit with beautiful red berries (see accompanying illustration). In association with the English Peak green brier were several other interesting and unusual plants. The leather grape fern (Boytrychium multifidum) was living up to its derivation of name with clusters of sporangia (Boytrychium, Greek for bunch of grapes). The monks-hood (Aconitum columbiana ssp. viviparum) a uncommon bulbiferous form that forms a geographically, morphologically and genetically a distinct group, found in two distinct groups south of Lake Tahoe and the Klamath Ranges. A very large member of the buttercup family with large umbrella-like leafs (Trautvetteria carolinbiensis var. occidentalis) with only one species in North America, another variety in eastern North America.
A very rewarding day out in this beautiful and unique area of California, next year another trip by our Chapter is planned to Bear Basin Butte area utilizing the Forest Service Bear Basin Butte facility.