Opal Creek Wilderness Annotated Checklist Project

Bryophytes and Lichens of the Pacific Northwest

Category: Uncategorized

Annotated Checklist: Methods and Obstacles

At Opal Creek, our goal was to collect, identify, and synthesize a list of as many known Opal Creek species as we could in the four days we were there, as well as potentially record species previously not known to inhabit this particular old growth forest. Because of the age and health of old growth (compared to other, younger forests), many rare lichen and bryophyte species occur in abundance in this forest. Especially because of its position in Cascadia (the bioregion of the Pacific Northwest including Washington, Oregon, and parts of Canada), Opal creek has some of the most diverse moss flora in the world (Henkel, 110).

This process included taking guided tours to sites with ecologically varying habitats and collecting bryophyte and lichen samples, recording important diagnostic information such as location description, GPS coordinates, substrate, elevation, and personal collection ID number.  Once we were back at the main campsite, we used keys, microscopes, and other lab tools to identify our collected samples in the commissary building. On our final lab day, we put together a master list of every species collected and identified at Opal Creek.



The housing lodge at Opal Creek


The class split into eight groups. Each group was responsible for collecting and identifying several species of one group of bryophytes and one group of lichen. In the mornings at Opal Creek, the groups would split up to go on collecting hikes and expeditions (locations according to the habitat needs of each moss/lichen type). Hikes were led by experts on the species present at Opal Creek, many of which were Evergreen graduates. Having knowledgeable professionals present was incredibly helpful in identifying trickier species.  Keying and identification went smoothly back at camp, until our second day in the lab.  Shortly after setting up on Wednesday, we lost power to the commissary building where the lab equipment was set up. Because the commissary relies on solar panels, reliable power was not a luxury we could take for granted. For the rest of the day we were without direct power to that building.  During the down time, students went on more collecting trips, studied their species, and worked on drawing and descriptions for their collections.



My personal monograph of Nephroma bellum


After a few hours, power was rerouted from the lodge (which runs on hydroelectricity) to the commissary via extension cords, and we were back in action. At the end of the day, a master list of every lichen and bryophyte collected was created.  A species list was not the only thing we took away from Opal Creek. As well as learning about the vast biodiversity of bryophytes and lichens at the site, students were able to acquire important field skills such as sight recognition, search methods (based on target species), time management, preparation, team work and being able to improvise when things go wrong.  Spending four days straight at Opal Creek gave us a feel of what it’s like to be a field biologist,
and we were able to encounter and overcome some of the same obstacles a professional might.

The only other notable setback was our lack of time at Opal Creek. Four days was
barely enough to scratch the surface of the bryophyte and lichen biodiversity present at Opal Creek. If we had several more weeks, or even a few more days, we could have accomplished so much more. However, I think it’s safe to say that the Evergreen State College Bryo and Lichens of the PNW program achieved its goals, as well as collectively gained several important field skills. Our time at the beautiful, pristine Opal Creek was definitely not wasted.



Henkel, William B. “Cascadia: A State of (Various) Mind(s).” JSTOR. Chicago Review, Vol. 39, No. 3/4, A North Pacific Rim Reader (1993). Web. 21 Nov. 2015.


Henriksson, Elizabeth. “Nitrogen Fixation by Lichens”. JSTOR. Oikos, Vol. 22, No. 1 (1971). Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Let the Search Begin: Targeted Collecting and the Results

Will Uriu-

It has been noted that many species of lichens and bryophytes are hypersensitive to the effects of pollution; particularly through air quality and watersheds (Gilbert, 606). Upon arriving at the site it was clear Opal Creek had a pristine environment in which vegetation flourished and a mass amount of diversity could be found (especially in comparison to the Evergreen Woods found back at school). Abandoned mining equipment and vehicles scattered throughout the area interestingly served as great platforms for the growth of a diverse range of bryophytes and lichens. Our class was divided into groups to most effectively attempt to complete an annotated  checklist of known bryophytes and lichens within the region.

Opal Creek, OR



The search proved to be difficult as several species required very specific conditions in which they could thrive, such as Leptogium rivale, a lichen that can only be found in streams that have little natural disturbances and remain unpolluted (Stone, 2). Other specimens simply were unavailable due to the season, specifically the hornworts. The location had several different microhabitats in which we could explore; a montane region that had several abandoned mines that followed Battle Ax Creek, the high elevations at the summit of Mount Whetstone, and lastly a rocky trail that led to Cedar flats . Due to limited time at the site, our groups had to decide which area would yield the most intended species to complete our portions of the checklist.


Figure 1:This graph displays where successfully identified specimens were collected for both bryophytes and lichens. It should be noted that unidentified lichens were worked on back in the labs at school, making their numbers higher than the bryophytes.

My group surveyed the Battle Ax Creek region for a variety of lichen from the genus Peltigera and a number of different types of leafy liverworts. This area was ideal as there were many rocky cliff edges cut out for the construction of the mines. This made for perfect grounds for the Peltigera, as several of them thrive in disturbed, rocky, moist areas (McCune, 234). For the liverworts, this offered a large flow of groundwater and they are found in extremely wet areas. In the end the class identified over 112 different samples and had a large remainder of unidentified collections transported back to the school labs for further examination. Some of our samples had previously never been identified on site which means we were able to contribute several new species to the checklist!


Works Cited:

McCune, Bruce, and Linda Geiser. Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest. 2nd ed. Corvallis: Oregon State UP, 2009. Print.

O.L. Gilbert. “Further Studies on the Effect of Sulfur Dioxide on Lichens and Bryophytes.” Department of Botany,  The University, Newcastle upon Tyne, 20 Oct 1969.

Stone, Daphne. “Leptogium Rivale Species Fact List.” Http://www.blm.gov. 1 Mar. 2009. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.

Opal Creek Wilderness Explorations and Endeavors Author: Bethany Evans M.

This blog is written and produced by students of “Bryophytes and Lichens of the Pacific Northwest” an ecology and field botany oriented program focused on exploring the diversity of lichens and bryophytes of the Pacific Northwest. Specifically, this blog focuses on the creation of an annotated checklist for the Opal Creek Ancient Old Growth Forest. Each of us will be writing a blog post to outline our experience studying the amazing diversity of bryophytes and lichens found at Opal Creek.

We hope you enjoy our blog, and stay tuned for more updates on our project!

  • Bethany, Kelsi, Wyatt, Jenny, Patrick, and Will.

Opal Creek Wilderness is an old growth forest situated in the heart of Oregon near the Cascade Mountains. This wilderness area represents some of the last old growth forest in all of Oregon, and has withstood several forest fires (which are low intensity and are natural and essential for a healthy true Old Growth Forest).  Its history is filled with conflict between settlers, miners, native residents, as well as conservationists before it became a federally protected wilderness area on Sept 20th, 1996 after a 20 year battle. Opal Creek’s rich natural history attracts over 20,000 visitors annually. It is a recreational area as well as an educational opportunity, and a Native American cultural site. Opal Creek was first inhabited by the Santium Molalla tribe who, camped in the Jawbone flats during the summer time. There is some evidence that the nearby Whetstone Mountain was retreated to for vision quests (History & Ecology, Opal Creek Wilderness Center) Also, the surrounding ‘Whetstone Mountain Trail’ was most likely a common trade route for indigenous tribes around the Pacific North West and is significant to the lifestyles of the original people of the PNW.

This region remained practically pristine until 1859 when miners discovered gold, and in 1930 “Grandpa” James P. Hewitt began official construction of the Jawbone Flats mining camp. Mining on Jawbone Flats continued until 1992 when attention was called to preserve the Opal Creek area by a conservation group called ‘Friends of Opal Creek’ which established itself in 1989. When mining ceased the Shiny Rock Mining Company gave Friends of Opal Creek all 151 acres of their land for preservation. Present day Opal Creek Wilderness spans upwards of 35,000 acres, some of which is federally owned, some privately owned by the conservation group.  Opal Creek is an important place geographically, ecologically, and culturally.

Fungi, bryophytes, and lichens make up a majority of the biomass at Opal Creek Wilderness. These organisms are essential to the diversity of life found in this biosphere, as well as many others around the world. This is why Opal Creek Wilderness is the perfect place to explore the range and extent of species of the bryophytes a lichens. The most efficient way to categorize and keep track of organisms is by using an annotated checklist.

(An annotated checklist is just exactly as it sounds: it is a checklist of species in a specific area with notation about the species and its environment.)

jawbone plats Right-  lichsJawBone Flats – The History and Ecology of Opal Creek Wilderness

Left-  Cladonia cristatella. Rock substrate.)




Lichens are one of the few organisms that can ‘fix’ nitrogen into a usable organic form. All organic life requires fixed nitrogen to operate. Opal Creek is a useful place to study specialized lichens because of the nature of diversity in old growth forests as well as that old growth forests have almost entirely disappeared from the planet. There are very few true old growth forests left, therefore fewer and fewer environments in which to discover the beautiful diversity that exists in lichen and bryophyte populations.

Lichens are basically sponges for nutrients and water. When lichens fall they add components -like nitrates, polyphosphate, and Sulphur- to the soil. Lichens are a popular food source utilized by animals. It is a popular snack for Elk, Deer, and small mammals like squirrels in harsh winters. Some lichens have specialized structures on the bottom of the thallus where it connects to its substrate that are called rhizines. These lichen are popular with birds who use it as efficient nesting material

more lichen opal creek  strong nest material   rhizines

Top left: Parmelia sulcata has special rhizines that are Velcro like and is popular among birds for efficient nest building because of this feature. wikimedia commons

Top right: A bird uses lichen to build a strong weather worthy nest. Pintrest.com

Bottom left: A close up of Parmelia sulcata’s velcro like rhizines.


Lichens are pollution sensitive. Some lichens are bio indicators that can demonstrate the relative pollution in an area, by understanding the pollution tolerance of species we can estimate the amount of pollution in a habitat inferred by which lichens are present. More rare or pollution sensitive lichens grow in relatively pristine areas whereas pollution tolerant lichens can survive in habitats with higher levels of pollution (e.g. parking lots, Chernobyl). This is another example of Opal Creek’s exclusive habitat. It is a host to many species of sensitive and relatively rare species that one cannot see or study in many other areas around the world because of its pristine and old growth qualities.

Bryophytes are just as important to a thriving old growth habitat. Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts are organisms that may be highly specialized to old growth trees and ecosystems. Bryophytes are home to microorganisms and are a basic but enormous producer in an old growth forest. (More on Bryophytes to be covered in future blog posts.)

Our group is thrilled to utilize and eventually work on identifying and filling an annotated checklist with identified species in the Opal Creek Wilderness area. This field trip and checklist gives us opportunities to refine our collection techniques and field skills. We are also excited to take advantage of the opportunity to explore the reaches of bryophytes and lichens alike in an old growth forest. More to come soon so keep up with our project to learn more about Lichens and Bryophytes of the PNW and other exciting and nerdy news.


This video is funny and informative about great Opal Creek history.



(all photos and statements are available for noncommercial reuse.)

Opal Creek Forest Center, Representative. “History and Ecology, OCW.” Opal Creek Forest Center, n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2015.

Calabria, Lalita. “Bryophytes and Lichens of the PNW.” Lecture Sept-Oct. Evergreen SC, Olympia. Web.

Forest Service, USDA. “Opal Creek Wilderness.” Www.fs.usda.gov. Federal Government, n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2015.

“Ecology and History of Opal Creek.” Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center, n.d. Web. <http://www.opalcreek.org/history-ecology/>.

McOmie, Grant. “Travel Oregon.” Opal Creek. Travel Oregon, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.

Richard, Terry. “Opal Creek Wilderness – Where Nothing Happens.” Blog.oregonlive.com. The Oregonian, 21 Oct. 2008. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.