Crash Course in Flowering Plant Families



By Emily Ferrell

I pulled into the SFI parking lot late, the full moon bathing the grounds in a crisp, white glow. No headlamp needed as I quickly set up a barebones cowboy camp, eager to begin the next morning with a fully rested brain.  Once nestled into my sleeping bag I noticed my relief and excitement at finally being here. I was finally taking the time to get down to the nitty gritty details of my favorite subject—the vast and mysterious kingdom of plants.

Although plants have always been an integral part of my life, a new job as Noxious Weeds Program Coordinator for a local restoration council challenges me to understand the immensely diverse floral communities of the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion and how invasive species impact these rare ecosystems.  Having never seriously pursued plant taxonomy courses in school, attending a three day crash course that emphasized native species seemed like a no-brainer.  Thankfully my council’s directors had agreed, and I was allowed to miss a couple days of work to attend.  Under the protection of a majestic incense cedar, I prayed to the moon that the Crash Course in the Flowering Plant Families would give me the support, structure, and confidence needed to tackle the daunting task of learning plants in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.

Just then a large fox pranced into the clearing, its elegant curves silhouetted sharply by the moonlight.

Class began at 8:30 the next morning. Tables were set up with microscopes and handouts, and students had their mammoth Jepson manuals ready to go.  We were a friendly, unassuming bunch, ranging from millenials to retirees, all ready to get serious about this passion for plants we’d been harboring for years.  Our backgrounds in botany varied widely, from agency workers who work in the field on a regular basis, to a retirement-age couple from New Hampshire traveling the country seeking out wild orchids, to a college botany instructor searching for ideas for teaching her own classes.

Our teacher, Linda Vorobik, took notes as everyone introduced themselves, and then filled us in on her interesting life as a  botanical taxonomist and accomplished artist with encyclopedic knowledge of native plants from most west coast bioregions, including those of the diverse Klamath-Siskiyou and Sierra Nevada ranges.  Open, gracious, energetic, clear, attentive and the most importantly, hilarious, Linda lit the path and we joyfully followed.  She provided three informational handouts and a schedule outlining the basic structure of each day, which always began with a lecture, followed by keying practice, followed by a field trip.

At first I was intimidated by the sheer number of new names included in the handouts; they would prove invaluable for the practice and retention of this freshly acquired knowledge.  Now that I’ve had two months to contemplate the material, I’m awed by how many hours of teaching have gone into the design and editing of these documents.  In addition to my class notes, Linda’s material effectively summarizes the most useful parts of a taxonomy textbook and local field guide into just a few pages.  During that first hour of class she knew we were feeling overwhelmed, so reassured us that while there was going to be a lot of information hurled at us over the next three days, we did not need to worry about memorizing everything.  After spouting off a few complicated Latin plant names like most people would say “rose” or “daisy,” she recommended that we “just absorb what you can and leave the rest.  Remember, there’s not going to be an exam!”  Good advice.

DSCN7563  DSCN7514
Linda Vorobik with students in the lab. Right, entomologist Rich Little works on memorizing plant families for use in his field work.

Linda’s first lesson introduced us to the area we would be exploring and her history with it. This included falling head-over-heels with the magical Klamath-Siskiyou flora, many years studying native rock cresses (e.g. Arabis spp.), working with local heroes of botany, and sharing her beloved Siskiyous with hundreds of students before and after the 2002 Biscuit Fire dramatically altered the landscape.

We wrapped up the first morning familiarizing ourselves with major taxonomic divisions and basic terminology critical for using Jepson or any other flora, then solidifying what we’d learned by practicing on real specimens Linda had collected.  The hands-on approach, the casual way Linda peppered her speech with interesting facts and subtle repetition, the way she kept everything in context while progressing from simple to complex, as well as her gorgeous and highly-illustrative photographs, kept us rapt and left me feeling engaged and hungry for more.

After lunch-with-a-view on the porch, we caravaned into the mountains. Following 8 Dollar Mountain Road as it snaked through serpentine zones just on the edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, we made a handful of stops where Linda knew we would find  plants from a wide range of families.  Linda shared her knowledge of broad-scale ecological wonders such as the patchwork of soil types made visible by the density, size, and species of plants covering the rugged mountains.  We got our fill of difficult-to-spell Latin names,  and what Linda referred to as “movie star” plants.

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Botanizing at Poker Flat by Chelsea Reha

Poker Flat botanizers

The SFI “Crash Course” botanizers at Poker Flat. Photo by Chelsea Reha.

Poker Flat botanizing 2“Advanced Plant ID Crash Course” at Poker Flat” with Linda Ann Vorobik was a relaxing and educational three days of botanizing at Poker Flat, as well as at the Siskiyou Field Institute’s beautiful Deer Creek Center. Our small class size made it possible for Linda to address everyone’s questions and
comments as we worked. Her botanical artwork was a wonderful and unexpected bonus.

The course began with a lesson in plant anatomy and terminology, complete with excellent handouts featuring Linda’s detailed illustrations. Featured plant families of the course were Cyperaceae, Asteraceae, Juncaceae, and Poaceae. They are all challenging families with specially modified anatomy and unique terminology. Although it was late in the season, we found plenty of plants to key along Deer Creek and in the adjacent fen. Among the many things that we identified from Deer Creek Center were Glyceria grandis, Panicum acuminatum, Carex mendocinensis, Carex nudata, Juncus orthophyllus, Juncus xiphioides, and Deschampsia cespitosa; all common and lovely native plants of Selma.

Poker Flat students

Class members trying to identify a sedge with instructor Linda Vorobik (second from left). Photo by Chelsea Reha.

2014 0710 Lili pard pard LOW RES

Lilium pardalinum wigginsii and pollinator friend photographed by Linda Vorobik.

2014 July Care ampl LOW RES

Carex amplifolia at Poker Flat. Photo by Linda Vorobik.

Botanizing at Poker Flat  was naturally the highlight of the course. Poker Flat is a 25-acre meadow located just north of the Siskiyou Wilderness at about 5500 ft. elevation. It is very plant-diverse and rich in native flora. As we wandered through the meadow, Linda pointed out plants that we collected or jotted down on our species lists. I was very impressed with Linda’s knowledge as well as the enthusiasm of the class. Botanizing with other plant lovers is awesome! We identified dozens of species from Poker Flat and the surrounding area. We encountered many native Carex, Juncus,

and Luzula species as well as many native members of the family Poaceae such as Danthonia californica, Hordeum brachyantherum, Elymus elymiodes, Elymus glaucus, and Phleum alpinum.

This was a great class and I look forward to more classes from Linda Vorobik and from the Siskiyou Field Institute.Taking this course expanded my botanical knowledge as well as my appreciation of the Siskiyou Field Institute and the enthusiastic students and educators that the institute draws to our unique region. As a resident of Selma, I feel so fortunate to have this resource in my backyard. Thank you to everyone who has contributed whether as an educator, student, board member, volunteer, etc. May the Siskiyou Field Institute have continued success in the beautiful Illinois Valley!

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Native Bees of the Siskiyous by Suzie Savoie

First published on Suzie’s Klamath-Siskiyou Seeds blog on June 18, 2016. All photos by Suzie Savoie.


Robbin Thorp holding a male Fernald cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus flavidus). Because male bumble bees do not have a stinger you can gently hold one to feel it “buzz!”


SFI’s Native Bees of the Siskiyous class netting native bees for observation at Page Mountain. We found different species of bees on flowering plants such as snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus) and whipplevine (Whipplea modesta).

Have you ever wanted to learn more about native bees and native plant pollination? I highly recommend taking Siskiyou Field Institute’s (SFI) Native Bees of the Siskiyous course, taught by entomologist Dr. Robbin Thorp. Last weekend I attended this course and was really glad I did. Being a lover of native plants and natural ecosystems, it’s only natural to want to understand as much as possible about the native pollinators these plants depend on for their reproduction, and vice versa — the mutualism between bees and flowering plants is fascinating!


World-renowned native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, was the recipient of the 2015 UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus Award for his outstanding scholarly work and service accomplished since his retirement in 1994. He is the co-author of Bumble Bees of California: An Identification Guide (2014, Princeton University Press) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists
(2014, Heyday Books).


Robbin Thorp’s collection of the rare western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis) and the possibly extinct Franklin’s bumble bee (Bombus franklinii). Note the size variations between queens, males and females. The queens are the largest.


Vosnesensky bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) queen in a vial for observation in the field. She was collected on June 11th and was estimated to be about a month old. She will be inseminated by a male, fatten up, and soon go into a hibernation that will last until early spring. This queen was larger than any other bee we collected during the class. She was a beauty!



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Gifts of the Wild

Photos and Text by Vivian Toll

“There is still somewhere deep within you a beast shouting that the earth is exactly what it wanted” – Mary Oliver

A healing and rejuvenating force, wilderness has the power to bring out an individual’s true nature, fostering honest connection with self, others and the earth. The nine-day, July SOP (Summer Outdoor Program)  backpacking trip presented this opportunity for five high school participants.

As the trip progressed, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness worked her magic. Diving into the waters of the Illinois River, the negative elements of home life clinging to each of the participants began to wash away. Beginning to let go of the outside world, the group of students from high schools within Oregon and California were able to slip into the wildness of the Kalmiopsis, simultaneously easing into their true selves.

Lake by V TollTarp by V TollOpen and receptive, the group began to develop deep relationships with the environment as well as each other, bonding over heavy packs, wildlife sightings, shooting stars, mosquito bites, likeminded journal entries, blackberry picking, early morning swims and late nights by the fire. Together, the group became more and more self-sufficient and comfortable with life among the trees, spearheading bear hangs, constructing tarp shelters, building and maintaining the evening fires, filtering group water, navigating maps, cooking delicious meals, and eventually welcoming the challenge of a 24 hour solo.

Throughout the nine-day trip, these experiences within the wilderness fostered self-exploration among the group members, ultimately furthering their development of self-trust and empowerment, both applicable and integral to the entirety of their individual lives. These are gifts offered by the wilderness. By partaking in the SOP experience, the participants were provided with the opportunity to begin to unwrap these gifts of the wild.

AHS by V Toll

Written by Vivian Toll
One of three guides on the 7/1 – 7/9 SOP trip

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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



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“Spirit of the Forest” by Debbie Catalina

Abbott Butte spruce Photos by Kathleen Pyle

June fifth. Still spring. Delicious mist blanketing the valley. My car hugging the twisting, curving road, the road hugging the higher ground, and the high ground itself hugging the selvages of great flat stretching southward. Thoughts wandered. What would our class be like? What would the other students be like? What was SFI like? What would the teachers be like? What would we learn of the “Spirit of the Forest”? Soon I would know.

Soon tires were crunching on the gravel. Soon my feet were crunching along the gravel path to a door that opened into a great room where tables and chairs and a white board announced that this was where the class would begin. Exhibits of maps and animals and artifacts lined counter tops and walls of the room, and soon our instructors arrived. An enjoyable morning, a rambling group discussion of tips, techniques, and getting acquainted. Over lunch, several of us shared a bench on a patio facing the fields. Swallows chattered to nestlings in the eaves. Lizards scrambled about on a low stone wall.

“Look!” one of us exclaimed, and turning collective gazes, we saw to the east, immobile and floating on the thermals, a great raptor. Suddenly, it folded its wings and fell to the earth like a stone – only to rise again with lunch clasped tightly in its taloned-grasp.

More sharing in the afternoon: this time, from our instructors, Diana Coggle, reading from her own published work, and from Mart Turner with a photo essay of his own work.

Crunching back across the gravel to the road in the afternoon, then our feet raising tiny puffs of red dirt hiking along the road until we reached a trail heading, up, up, and up – still following the trail along the side of a canyon – delicate scents of dry cedar and bay laurel on the air, pine, madrone, and great black oaks, scattered across the open wood, down into the steep canyon, then back up again to the top where giant and singular oak stood defiant, a sentinel watching over all.

Golden shafts of light, moving fast, refocused our attention from minute to minute from the sweep and geometry of the landscape and back again to the ferns, the vines, the bark, and the stones.

That was when I saw it: single powder-blue bloom, smaller than a penny and all alone in a similarly slender shaft of light, like a tiny diva, a lone finale in a spot-light in the middle of a great, great stage.


From the idyllic valley, over the river, then through town we went, carpooling on day two toward distant peaks until finally angling away from the highway and toward the wistful and piquant peaks of the Siskiyou Crest.

The road twisted and turned, occasionally flashing its brilliant green-brown-black serpentine sides in the sun. I squinted into the glare.

We followed the mountain side. Fir and cedar replaced madrone and oak. Slopes angled ever more steeply up, trees grew larger, and soon we were catching occasional glimpses of great deep canyons below.

We spent the day on the mountain, cool and moist among the great dark conifers in the morning then in the afternoon climbing at last to a rocky prominence that felt like the top of the world.


This was a fabulous day, a day of solitary wanderings, finding our own pictures, creating our own narratives.DSCN4690Though shy at first, I finally felt that the forest had flung her doors wide, sharing raptors, flowers, rocks, trees, smells, sounds – and even clues to great mysteries.

I think about this adventure still; my trip to the watershed was itself a watershed for me. It was of great to benefit – from three days in a group of like-minded souls and distinguished, established artists sharing their insights with us, learning new skills, to making new memories and just having fun, but it was a bit more – something I am still conceptualizing – and that is this: the only force that can save this planet is the love and the magic that only she herself can unleash.

This is the magic that’s hiding in the Spirit of the Forest, the spirit we need to unleash, and we will only be able to unleash it to the extent we can sharpen our skills in it to others, as suggested by these famous words: “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

~ Debbie Catalina

Debbie Catalina is working toward her SFI Naturalist Certificate. She received a Siskiyou Audubon Society scholarship in order to enroll in “The Spirit of the Forest” taught in June 2015 by photographer Mark Turner and writer Diana Coogle.

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Capturing the Spirit of the Forest by Caci Dunahoo

Edited_DSC00745Siskiyou Field Institute held an amazing class on The Spirit of the Forest the weekend of June 5th through the 7th. The class was about capturing the spirit of the forest through pictures and words. Dr. Diana Coogle taught the writing portion of the class. While exploring the forest, Dr. Coogle had the class take notes. Then she helped us translate the notes into writing. In addition, Dr. Coogle taught the class the importance of prompts and playing with different literary techniques. When the class completed their rough draft writing, she assisted us with editing tips and guidance.

“Just as you cannot blame the pen for what the author writes,” stressed Mark Turner, the photographer teaching the class,  “the camera doesn’t take a good or bad photo, it’s what’s behind the camera.” Mr. Turner led the class on a photography field trip to the forest and taught us how to look for the elements of a good photo and techniques for composing publishable photos. After spending most of the day photographing the forest, the class selected their favorite photos. Then Mark shared a variety of editing techniques and tools. At the end of the day, the class selected photos and pieces of writing to go together and presented their final pieces to the rest of the class.


I learned so much from this class and I am so grateful for meeting the other students. Spending so much time connecting to the spirit of the forest inspired me. I took a photography class in high school but Mr. Turner taught me more in three days than I learned in two years. Hearing Dr. Coogle’s writings and having her assist me with my own writing was helpful, too. I am happy to have the opportunity while assisting with youth education and maintenance at Siskiyou Field Institute. SFI let me attend the class on scholarship as a member of AmeriCorps NCCC. I’ve had wonderful experiences at SFI!

Digital Camera

All photos by Caci Dunahoo

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