Botanical Treasures of the KS
The Klamath-Siskiyou is a treasure trove of various ecosystems such as fire-dependent oak savannas, redwood forests, and clear rivers lined with azaleas, rhododendron and manzanita. Serpentine soils support scores of rare plant species, native bunch grasses, Jeffrey pine savannas and unique wetlands, known as serpentine fens.
The reasons for this level of botanical diversity say a lot about the nature of the KS. This wild, rugged region is known for its steep terrain, east-west ridgelines, complex geology and numerous microclimates, which have acted as refuges for many species during previous climatic events. In addition, over the past 200 million years, the area hasn’t experienced the volcanic eruptions and glacial events that have shaped other areas in the western United States.
Having hosted flowering plants for over 50 million years, these soils support a globally-significant community of rare wildflowers and plants. Fire-enriched Klamath-Siskiyou forests contain an estimated 3,500 vascular plant species, 280 of which are endemic, naturally existing here and nowhere else on the planet. Rare plants include the Cobra lily, Mt. Ashland lupine, Henderson's horkelia, lavendar paintbrush, Yreka phlox and Gentner's fritillaria.
The Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion is considered a global center of biodiversity (Wallace 1982), an IUCN Area of Global Botanical Significance (1 of 7 in North America), and is proposed as a World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (Vance-Borland et al. 1995).
The astounding botanical diversity of the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area of Southwest Oregon went largely unnoticed until 1960, when ecologist Robert Whittaker published his classic study: Vegetation of the Siskiyou Mountains, Oregon and California. Whittaker compared the botanical diversity of the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area to the southern Appalachian Mountains, crediting the region as having “central significance” for the floristic origins and diversity of Pacific Northwest flora.
The California pitcher plant or Cobra Lily, Darlingtonia californica, is a rare carnivorous plant of serpentine wetland communities. California pitcher plant obtains nitrogen by decomposing insects captured in the pitcher-shaped leaves. The insects crawl down inside the pitcher where they are trapped by a barrier of downward facing hairs. The Darlingtonia secrets a proteolytic enzyme that breaks down and digests the captured insects.
Awareness of this very special area has grown since Robert Whittaker published his study in 1960, but there are still surprisingly few protections in place to preserve this national treasure for future generations of outdoor enthusiasts. The rare plants of the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area face ongoing threats from a variety of sources. Mining interests continue to press for the opportunity to remove minerals like nickel and gold from serpentine areas, which will devastate these fragile plant communities. Off-road vehicles also pose a threat to the area – tearing up sensitive habitat and spreading Port Orford cedar disease, which is threatening the very existence of one of the most beautiful, iconic trees of the region.
— Lilla Leach, a pioneering botanist on her discovery in 1930 of the endemic Kalmiopsis leachiana, the oldest living member of the azalea and rhododendron family.
Discovered in 1930 by Lilla Leech in the Gold Basin area, is a relic of the pre-ice age and the oldest known member of the Heath (Ericaceae) Family. The Kalmiopsis Wilderness was named after this unique endemic shrub.
"I was in the lead where I usually walk…when suddenly I beheld a small patch of beautiful low-growing deep rose colored plants and because of its beauty I started running toward it and dropped to my knees…I had never seen anything so beautiful before."
KS Wild works for the protection of our rare ecosystems containing these botanical wonders by monitoring and reporting illegal activities such as ORV use, mining, and trash dumping. These activities often damage sensitive, botanically rich public areas.