By Ann Dittmer and Cindy Barrett
Tucked four miles on a myriad of dirt roads dissecting the
mountains south of Big Bear Lake (San Bernardino Mountains,
southern California) hides a discreet meadow where stream
orchids, lemon lilies, ferns, and white flowered bog orchids
commingle in an incredible show of nature's beauty. After my
diligent plant buddy, Cindy, dutifully gushed stories of
discovering this slice of botanical heaven, I was determined to
witness and capture these beauties on film. It would take three
years of trial forays into the field before our timing fell on
peak bloom. Previous attempts swung between the extremes of too
early (yielding tantalizing, nodding green buds) or too late
(missing the bloom altogether). But, a visit to the site on July
15, 2000 paid off.
Photographer's note: All photos were taken with a Nikon 8008
using a 60mm 2.8 Nikkor micro lens and Fugichrome Provia (100)
film. No flash, shades, or reflective devices were used--only
natural lighting. Scans of the slides were done using a Polaroid
SprintScan 35 Plus.
Under the tall, airy canopy of Jeffrey pine forest, a
groundwater seep provides the ideal microenviron- ment
for a plethora of orchid, fern and lily species to
thrive. Such boggy conditions support plentiful drifts
of corn lilies, a.k.a. false
hellebores (Veratrum californicum). The
large, parallel ribbed leaves add splendid texture to
many a meadow throughout California.
Staying in the saturated soils of the spring, one
brilliant white spikes of the white
flowered bog orchid (Plantanthera
leucostachys) flourishing. While white flowers
measure only 1/2" in
length, the spikes range from 1 to 3 feet in height.
Moving just beyond the wettest portion of the meadow,
an incredible assembly of stream
orchids (Epipactis gigantea) lay just a few
feet from trailside. The understated earthen tones
of this flower could be easily overlooked by the avid
hiker intent on reaching the summit rather than the
No more than 20 feet away, a massive population of
rare lemon lilies (Lilium
parryi) flourish, clearly oblivious to the knowledge
of their species' reduced numbers owing to
overcollection and loss of habitat. Here, in this
sanctuary, their numbers thrive. Throughout the elongate
meadow are plants taller than my 5'6" height, each
supporting 1 to 17 brilliant yellow trumpets. As we walk
along the footpath, the large trumpets hung so
gracefully as to be nearly mistaken for butterflies
dancing in the dappled sunlit oasis. Shockingly intense
lemon-vanilla fragrance fills the air in drifts.
In many places, the lemon lilies intermingle with
robust, four foot tall colonies of bracken
fern (Pteridium aquilinum).
With such stellar and showy competition it would be
easy to overlook the diminutive but fascinating musk
monkeyflower (Mimulus moschatus), growing no
more than 6 inches tall--a dwarf beneath the towering
ferns and lilies. With leaves cold and slimy to the
touch, and smelling a bit stronger than one might
perhaps wish for such a small plant, the little yellow
flowers stand out and add a perky touch to its resume.
About the Authors
ANN DITTMER received her MA in Geography from California
State University, Northridge (CSUN) and currently teaches
geography at CSUN. Having been informally interested in plants
and propagation since the young and tender age of seven, her
scientific botanical knowledge has yet to fully mature. Her
background in photography has lead to the accumulation of a
large collection of plant slides--and ever more books to help
identify them all. Contact Ann at ann.dittmercsun.edu or visit her webpage at http://voltaire.csun.edu/ann/plant/index.html.
CINDY BARRETT received her BA in Biology from CSUN and
currently works in the College of Engineering and Computer
Science at CSUN. Keeper of the Jepson Manual, she
enthusiastically shares her botanical expertise with novice Ann
Dittmer. Commonly, Cindy and Ann can be found scouring the local
mountains of southern California for new plants to add to their
list of "sightings".
Photos and text © 2000 Ann
Dittmer and Cindy Barrett. All rights reserved.