Oregon – Granite Man, Pennyroyal, and Deer Brush

 

 

An hour before the race began

On the first of June Mr. Glad competed with other members of the family in the Granite Man Triathlon in southern Oregon. It was one of several events and meetings that formed the outline of a little trip around our neighboring state.

My husband was doing the swimming leg, as was the other grandpa of our Oregon grandchildren, and the two of them were the team captains. Our son and three grandsons made up the remainder of the teams, with the younger athletes compensating somewhat for the slowness of their elders. We womenfolk and some out-of-town kin were the support crew and also played with the baby (cute boy even if he isn’t one of my grandchildren).

My favorite swimmer left of center with his hands on his hips

Perfect weather, and a lovely setting, with trees leafing out, flowers beginning to bloom. As we stood around on the grassy slope of Applegate Lake waiting for the race to start with the swimmers’ portion, I had my first botanical experience of the trip. It started with a smell that only gradually broke into my consciousness enough to make me look down and search out what source my feet were tramping on.

pennyroyal – or not?

Pennyroyal was my first thought, as I picked off some of what was growing in the wild lawn, and in case you aren’t familiar with it, I outlined one cluster faintly in red, in the photo above, in the lower right corner. Even so, you may have to click on the photo to see it.

But it doesn’t exactly look like pictures of Mentha pulegium, though that pennyroyal is considered mildly invasive in California and Oregon. It doesn’t even look like pictures of the Oregon “field mint” Mentha arvensis, which I looked at in case my sniffer is not able to distinguish between members of the mentha family.

Pennyroyal has what I’d call a sharper aroma than most mints, and this one under my feet had that distinctive smell that I have met many times in my life, often in the mountains. Was I mistaken? Its leaves do look in some ways more like Monardella odoratissima, whose common names include “Mountain Pennyroyal” – but not exactly.

This Applegate Lake variety looks like a cross between it and another mint, as I study it further. And that impression might not be too far from reality, because it turns out that pennyroyal has an ability to hybridize with other mint species, adding to its troublesome weediness. It may crowd out native plants and even threaten Oregon’s commercial peppermint and spearmint crops, as I read in this article.

I learned a new word while reading it: allelopathy: a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces one or more biochemicals that influence the growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms. I am familiar with this kind of influence from my experiences in gardening, but I didn’t know the name for it. The latest instance is the way nothing much grows under my manzanita bush because of its negative allelopathic qualities. The authors of the article experimented by treating seeds of a rare Oregon plant with a weak extract of pennyroyal root, and found that the germination rate dropped.

Deer Brush near Applegate Lake, Oregon

I didn’t know all of this bad stuff when I was lolling about in such a bucolic place; I was only pleased to have found a plant to check on as soon as I got home.

When we went out to the parking lot after all our guys were done (and some were done-in) I found another, a bush covered with honey-scented flowers. I thought it might be a type of Ceanothus, and I was right. But about the common name, I was wrong. I guessed Mountain Lilac, and it is in fact called that by some people, but maybe by mistake…? It’s officially known as Deer Brush.

The flowers come in shades of light blue and white, mostly, and it’s native to the western states. All of its uses are positive: animals eat it, the Indians made baskets from it, and it fixes nitrogen in the soil. Everybody likes this one!

Ceanothus integerrimus

5 thoughts on “Oregon – Granite Man, Pennyroyal, and Deer Brush

  1. When I visited the US I fell in love with the lakes. You have the best lakes. I have vivid memories of being gobsmacked at strawberries and blueberries growing in the wild. And I could just have built a cabin and lived by any of the lakes we visited. But that water looks cold!

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  2. I love spotting herbs and flowers like that when I am out and about. What a beautiful place. I have never been there before. That lake is splendid. What a nice outing.

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