NEHALEM, Ore. – Like Saddle Mountain and neighboring Neahkahnie Mountain, Onion Peak hosts an unusually diverse mix of plants. Since the 1970s, botanists had identified some 268 species or subspecies of plants growing on the slopes of Onion Peak.
As of last Wednesday, make that 271.
Onion Peak, east of Arch Cape and visible from much of the Nehalem River Valley, is the third-tallest point in Clatsop County, behind only Saddle Mountain and a nearby unnamed peak. While much of it is owned by two timber companies, the 387 acres at the summit are managed by the nonprofit North Coast Land Conservancy for conservation rather than timber harvest under a perpetual conservation easement.
Treeless hilltops and sloped subalpine meadows such as those found on Onion Peak are typically built atop basalt and are known as “balds.” Some plant species found here grow on these mountains and nowhere else in the world. The drifts of wildflowers found in these balds have long blooming seasons, from early spring to late summer, peaking in June and early July.
A small group of hikers – composed of Willapa Bay botanist Kathleen Sayce, Seaside-based wetlands ecologist Doug Ray and NCLC Stewardship Director Melissa Reich and NCLC Stewardship Manager Amy Hutmacher – timed their July 6 hike to the top of Onion Peak to coincide with the blooming of a favorite species, queen-of-the-forest (Filipendula occidentalis), a white flower found in wet, rocky seeps and stream sides. Sayce, Reich and Hutmacher are members of the Filipendula Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon Executive Committee.
They found Filipendula in bloom, and alongside it, a species that had had not previously been recorded on Onion Peak: Trautvetteria carolinensis, or Carolina bugbane. They also found, for the first time on Onion Peak, Pacific waterleaf (Hydrophyllum tenuipes) and kneeling angelica (Angelica genuflexa). None of the three was in flower yet; Sayce took accompanying photos at other times in other locations.
Onion Peak lies within what NCLC calls the Coastal Edge Conservation Initiative area, an unusually biodiverse region located between Tillamook Head and Nehalem Bay that, in the space of just a few miles, includes everything from ocean shoreline to 3,000-foot peaks. The land conservancy seeks to preserve complete, contiguous coastal watersheds within the Coastal Edge, allowing the once and future temperate rainforest indigenous to this coastline to again thrive.
Bonnie Henderson is North Coast Land Conservancy communications coordinator. She was a volunteer On the Land guide and editorial helper for NCLC for many years before taking on coordination of NCLC’s communications in 2014. She has had a long career in writing and editing newspapers, magazines and books as well as doing public affairs for nonprofits.