Wildflowers and More at GROWISER

Describing GROWISER conservation area is tricky. It is in its purest sense, a protected piece of land in northeast Oregon. But it is so much more than that. It is also a classroom to learn about the environment on this piece of earth; it is a geology museum because of Andy Huber's amazing collection; and it is all heart. Where else can you trek along the top of a bluff surrounded by snowcapped mountains and see the edge of the ash deposits from Mt. Mazama, a mountain that erupted nearly seven-thousand years ago while a giant quartz crystal in the middle of a labyrinth beckons you to sit and take it all in? It's a special place. Dr. Andy Huber, its champion, is a special person.

The gang from Joy Creek Nursery visited last week with the helpful organization skills of one of its biggest fans and my former boss Mike Smith. He's been coming here regularly for some time and knows it well, so off we all went; even FM came along this time. I did visit in 2018 (a little later in the year, so different flowers), you can revisit that post here. For now, here's a snapshot of our visit to GROWISER May 2022.

GROWISER is a 260-acre native plant conservation area in Northeast Oregon. It protects 220 acres of land located 5 miles north of Summerville, and 40 acres located 2 miles east of Cove, Oregon. Our objective is to create an area with only the plant species that were here 200 years ago. We call those species "native plants."  GROWISER stands for the Grande Ronde Overlook Wildflower Institute serving Ecological Restoration. 

In the middle of a field atop the bluff, you come across a giant quartz crystal with a sphere of similar clarity. Such sights are spotted throughout the property. 

Let's begin here at the view from Andy's home and base camp. This is typical of the area, foothills to the Blue Mountains carpeted in green and trees.

We all gathered and set out through the woodland area with Andy as our guide. On the way we observed many Anemone piperi in the woodlands with varying coloration.

Anemone piperi

Anemone piperi

An incredibly dark Anemone piperi

Veratrum californicum - California false hellebore

Goodyera oblongifolia - western rattlesnake plantain
Calypso bulbosa - fairyslipper 

I believe this is a coral mushroom

An interesting plant whose name escapes me at the moment.

The crew walking through the woods. I see FM back there at the end with his straw hat. We were all going at a snail's pace because of all of the oohs and aahs and picture taking. Andy at the helm was most patient with us and answered all of our questions.

Thalictrum occidentale western meadow-rue

Moving into a more open area with considerably more sun, Amelanchier alnifolia - Saskatoon serviceberry

Arnica cordifolia - heartleaf arnica

Prunus virginiana - chokecherry 

Lithophragma parviflorum - small flower woodland-star

Balsamorhiza hookeri var. hirsuta -  hairy balsamroot
Paeonia brownii - Brown's peony

Delphinium nuttallianum - twolobe larkspur

The mountain in the distance is in the Wallowa range of peaks. It is due east of GROWISER. Takes maybe an hour to reach Enterprise and Joseph and then the beautiful Wallowa Lake.

Castilleja hispida - harsh Indian paintbrush

Paeonia brownii - Brown's peony

Thermopsis montana - mountain goldenbanner

Wyethia amplexicaulis - mule-ears

Andy Huber (left) and FM exchanging stories, no doubt. FM reports that he had definite hat envy. And perhaps some feather envy, too. FM says that Andy is a fountain of information about not only the plants and trees but of the history of the area. 

A line of trees Andy planted himself, turning this former farmland back to what it likely looked like before it had been cultivated in the late 19th century.

Larix occidentalis - western larch

Larix occidentalis cones

FM and our friend Anna discussing the very Stonehenge-esque quality of this grouping of stones and minerals. This is the crater of what was once a mountain. Andy tells us nothing really grows here, despite his best efforts. Perhaps the soil is too warm? It's anyone's guess.

An enormous rose quartz in the center of a circle of benches. 

Castilleja hispida - harsh Indian paintbrush

There were some gnarly growth patterns on these pines, Andy says when the snow is heavy this is often the result.

A lovely road to nowhere.

FM enjoying the view of Mount Emily in the background.

Wildflowers of May. Andy said they too are behind schedule as far as flowering times are concerned.

Mount Emily in the background. FM says the ridge looks like a great place to hike. He suspects he could see Saint Helens from there. 

Camassia quamash - small camas 

Lithophragma glabrum bulbous woodland-star

The labyrinth with a selection of amazing rocks and minerals in the center.

Triteleia grandiflora - large flowered triteleia

Lomatium triternatum - nine leaf biscuitroot

Lomatium macrocarpum - bigseed biscuitroot

A group of crazed wildflower enthusiasts! We spotted something white in the field, so everyone trekked over to investigate.

Wildlife in general is amazing out here as you can imagine. Ramona with her sharp eyes spots all manner of critters including this beetle. 

This may not look very remarkable, but the land is divided here. The area to the right is full of wildflowers and soil that supports their needs. This is primarily soil native to the area including rocks from the original eruption of the mountain that was once on this site (the crater of which is pictured in an earlier photo). The left side, however, supports an entirely different type of vegetation as it is primarily ash from Mt. Mazama that drifted across the state and landed here. There's a lesson in not only geology but also plant habitats and soil.

It really feels like you could be in the Alps. In fact we all busted out singing The Hills Are Alive at one point. I'm sure Andy hears this often. For the record, FM did not bust into song, but he wondered aloud what we would do about Maria.

Calochortus elegans - elegant mariposa lily

Just more gorgeous scenery.

A rose quartz sphere out in the field. The collection of rocks and minerals at GROWISER is the best I have ever seen in my life. This is coming from a gal who wanted to be a geologist when I was a kid, I was also a rock collector. Andy just loves them, there's no other explanation than that. Some people go to the movies or buy clothes or travel, Dr. Andy buys rocks.

An obsidian sphere that caught the light just so. This can be dangerous if the focused light reaches wood or paper. Fires have started!

Crazy cool crystals.

A rather large rose quarts that surprisingly, on this hot day, was cold to the touch. 

Stacks of interesting rocks out on the site.

One of several meteorites in Andy's collection. Have you ever held one? They are incredibly heavy.

No idea what this is but isn't it interesting?

My guess is quartz/amethyst

I asked my friend Anna to hold up this crystal in the light for me. It was my favorite.

Dr. Andy Huber doing what he does best, teaching.

That large striped feather I found along the trail near the end of our hike. Since I respect the "take nothing" statement, I offered it to Andy as it seemed special. He suspects it is a feather from a great grey owl. If that is indeed the case, what a find! Wow! I hope it is. Here's a link to the story of the great gray owls at GROWISER.
FM enjoying a little fresh air atop the amazing place that is GROWISER.

It was such a refreshing and fun trip, we all had a blast. Unfortunately, our fearless leader Mike faced a health issue and although made it to nearby Cove and a few surrounding areas the day before, he couldn't join us on this tour day. Hopefully he's healing and will be back at it again next year. I know we'd love to join him! 

If you would like to visit, you must email Andy first. He can give you a guided tour or you can explore on your own but you need to have a reservation. It's free, it's non-profit and it's fabulous. Andy's work here is the important kind and our hats are off honor him and his restoration work. Thank you, Dr. Andy. 

Here is a link to an episode of Oregon Field Guide all about this special place.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you! Happy gardening!


  1. What a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in nature. Thanks for sharing your visit and all those beautiful wildflowers.

    1. Thank you Kris! It was a super fun trip with so much to see....and good weather helped! ;)

    2. Anonymous8:44 AM PDT

      I just got back from there yesterday and I’m just mind blown I live locally and can’t believe I’ve been here 5 years and never knew about this area, what a completely miraculous experience

    3. It is magic, pure magic. So glad you had the chance to visit. Cheers!

  2. Anonymous9:10 AM PDT

    I had to go back and read the previous (2018) post as well. GROWISER is very cool and unique place. Dr. Andy's rock collection is astonishing, but after encountering multiple plant hoarders over the years, it's seems rather reasonable. Because when one is passionate about something, there is joy to be had in collecting :-D
    I found the information about the crater's area, where "Andy tells us nothing really grows here, despite his best efforts" quite remarkable, especially since there is so much growing all around it. I wonder if soil testing could provide clues.
    "A lovely road to nowhere" is the best road to take. Love that photo!

    1. I'm glad you visited the 2018 post, a bit more info about Andy in that one. I see what you mean about plant hoarders translating to rock hounds....passion, exactly. I wonder too about that soil, we chatted a little and he suspects a higher temperature among other possibilities. Nature is amazing and keeps us guessing!

  3. What a gorgeous area. Wonderful to see it being protected. Love the quirky crystals and rock samples. A connection between the land and what forms it below.

    1. We are sooo lucky to have Andy and the nonprofit to protect this precious bit of earth. Connections are what Andy talked about throughout our tour, it's the reason he does what he does.


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