Reflections of Journeying into the Cryptic Red Buttes Wilderness with Scot Loring

About author Tyler Wauters: I have lived in the Applegate Valley since 2008 and consider myself a local. Not a local in the sense that I have roots here that travel back multiple generations, but defined by my devotion to taking care of the land, creatures, and people that call this bioregion home. I have carved out a humble niche here over the years; I happily reside in the rural community of Williams, am a land owner/tender and co-founder of a new local school, Hawthorn Institute. Programs at Hawthorn Institute focus on bio-regional medicine, clinical herbalism, and Ayurveda. I have also been teaching for the Herb Pharm’s Herbaculture Intern Program now for 8 years and continue to be an adventurer of the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains and avid home gardener.

I have been exploring the Red Buttes Wilderness for sometime now, enjoying the sub-alpine terrain and the sweet smelling azaleas. I am continually inspired by the luminous glow of the Siskiyou Crest and the unique plant diversity that this region holds. For me, a local amateur naturalist, the Siskiyou Field Institute’s Cryptic World of Red Buttes Wilderness class gave me a chance to explore a favorite region of mine with an expert. In the class we identified and discussed, at length, lichens and bryophytes of the Red Buttes Wilderness.

Scot with shelf fungus
Scot Loring with shelf fungus.
rock outcropping
Looking for unusual species at the base of the Crest.

Our instructor Scot Loring brought us through this magnificent wilderness with ease and passion, generously sharing copious amounts of valuable information. I walked away gaining many insights into some of the little, and often unknown, information. I walked away gaining many insights into some of the little, and often unknown, organisms that we find in our backyards and in the wilderness. I came to the class knowing only a couple of lichens and bryophytes; I walked away from the class with a sense of wonder at the sheer diversity of bryophytes and lichens in this area, and with practical skills for their identification.

Hairy lichen

Parmelia saxatilis

Bryophytes  — mosses, liverworts, and hornworts– are the most primitive group of land plants on the earth and have been on this planet at least 400 million years. Similar to all land plants, they evolved from slimy green alga,yet as a primitive group, bryophytes have retained their ancestors’ dependency on a need for water to reproduce. So when out in the field looking for bryophyte species diversity, pay special attention to moist habitats including shady rock outcrops.

Frog Pond
Frog Pond, one of our destinations

Lichens are symbiotic organisms made up of members of as many as three kingdoms. The dominant partner is always a fungus. In general, most fungi lack the ability to produce their own food and provide for themselves by decomposing other organisms. In the case of lichens, the fungi cultivate partners that manufacture food through photosynthesis. It is almost as if fungi discovered how to farm! Sometimes the partners are algae (Kingdom Protista), sometimes cyanobacteria (Kingdom Monera, formerly called blue-green algae), and sometimes the fungus will partner with both simultaneously. One of the highlights of the class for me was going back to SFI and looking at the collected samples of lichens under the microscope. This allowed a view of layers of fungal hyphae and algae together, which made this union all the more fascinating. Some lichen species we found on our walk included wolf lichen (Letharia vulpina), dog lichen (Peltigera), Red cap lichen (Cladonia), and Usnea.

Peltigera and mossJPG
Peltigera lichen with a bryophyte


Riparian moss
A riparian moss

Inevitably, many vascular plants become part of the class. Some other highlights include seeing Brewers Spruce (Picea brewerana), Knobcone Pine (Pinus attentuata), Alasakan Yellow Cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) and Silktassel (Garrya fremontii). Some exciting understory plants include Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellate), Angelica (Angelica argute), and Osha (Ligusticum greyii). Since it was a dry fall, we did not see  much fungi, but we still encountered a few specimens including Red Belt Fungus (Fomotopsis pinicola), Shrimp Russula (Russula xerampelina) and a few unique truffles hanging out in the duff layer.

Sugar pine truffles
Sugar Pine forms a habitat for fungus species.

Through the many SFI classes I have participated in, I continue to be grateful for the expert instructors and the unique places they have taken me to explore. I encourage anyone living in southern Oregon to support SFI programs. Learning about our bioregion is vital to creating strong relationships with nature and to instilling an ethic that supports sustainable stewardship and love of these lands!

————–Tyler Wauters, Williams, Oregon

Tyler Wauters