I have been fascinated for a long time with the conifers of the Klamath Mountains. While there are many places across the region that have a high density of conifer species, one of the hotspots is in the Russian Wilderness in an area known as the Miracle Mile. It has a long, storied history of discovery, research, conservation, and recreation.
If you visit, tread lightly and leave no trace. Day hiking is the best way to see it and preserve the unique natural features of the area. What follows is a summary of my presentation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Green plants are considered autotrophs because they photosynthesize—making sugar from water and carbon dioxide. The world of heterotrophic plants is complicated but all have moved away from total energy production from photosynthesis toward obtaining organic carbon either directly from other living beings or through a parasitic relationship with a fungus. Heterotrophic plants include directly parasitic and mycotrophic forms. The conifer forests of the western United States nurture an exceptional diversity of heterotrophic plants.
The internet is an amazing thing. It opens up lines of communication that were unheard of in the past. Case in point–I got an email from Richard Moore who lives in Callahan, California. He knows the Salmon-Trinity Mountains well, as he has been exploring them since he was a young boy in the early 50’s. It turns out that in the early 1980’s he discovered a small stand of western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) in the Russian Wilderness. He knew about the famous square mile wherein 17 conifers species had been found. He also figured the junipers he discovered were within–or at least very close to–that carefully shaped square mile. He had told John Sawyer in person about 2 years ago; but never relayed the location of the trees. John and I made the trek into Sugar Creek and I climbed to the ridge trying to predict where the juniper were – and missed them by a few hundred yards and a wall of granite. Now I was back to find the 18th Conifer in the Miracle Mile.
Turns out, in the summer of 2012 his brother bought him a copy of Conifer Country and he was re-inspired to try to get the word out about his discovery. He borrowed his son’s camera (which he readily admits to have taken some poor photos), put together a PDF with the pictures and GPS coordinates with the help of his son, and also got that file in an email to me. What we now have is the evidence (minus a specimen) of the newest addition to the botanical legacy of the Klamath Mountains. I plan to meet Richard this summer and collect some specimens for the Humboldt State University Herbarium. Below is the link to the file with photos and GPS coordinates that Richard sent to me.
In the late 1960’s, after arriving at Humboldt State University as a new professor, John O. Sawyer received a letter in the mail from G. Ledyard Stebbins. Stebbins, widely regarded as one of America’s leading evolutionary biologists but also a lover of rare plants, suggested to John that he needed to visit a remote place in the Klamath Mountains known as Blake’s Fork. Here, he said, John might help verify a report for one of California’s rarest conifers–the Engelmann spruce. Stebbins hoped John could record his findings in a new database called the Inventory of Rare and Endangered Vascular Plants of California organized by the California Native Plant Society. With conifers calling, John and his friend and co-worker Dale Thornburgh went on a journey that would change our understanding of conifer distributions, plant associations, and wilderness in California.