Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wildflowers I Know and Love No. 1: Snowplant

Good morning, Tina here. I am starting a new series on wildflowers this morning. Since it is winter, I am starting with the Snowplant, sarcodes sanguinea.

I first encountered the snowplant while backpacking in during the 1970's in Desolation Valley in the high Sierras in California near Tahoe. It is only known to grow in California, Nevada and Oregon.

With a name like snowplant, you would think it grows and blooms in winter, but actually it arrives in late spring as the snow is melting.
This lovely shot is from W. P. Armstrong. The snowplant is a parasite of the conifer, and you will find it growing up out of pineneedles in a shady forest as high as 8,000 feet.
This shot from Armstrong shows the entire plant. Usually a bright red, the snowplant may also be a lighter rose pink.
The snowplant grows on underground fungi at the conifers roots, and in a way is a parasite of the conifer trees, although it does not steal nutrients, rather it aids in the conifers growth.
The snowplant is usually about a foot tall, but can grow to twenty inches tall. Even when it is just popping out of the ground, it is easy to spot because of its startling color in the midst of white patches of snow and green and brown litter on the forest floor.
The snowplant contains no chlorophyll, so does not contain any green. It is non-photosynthetic.
It retains its bright red coloring even in the shade of the evergreen forest.
Once I discovered its existence, I have seen it growing in the rainforests of Oregon, and along Mormon Emigrant Trail (old Iron Mountain Road) in Eastern El Dorado County.
Native Americans once ate this plant (I can't imagine it was very tasty), and also dried and powdered it for use to fight toothaches and mouth pain.
The snowplant is a protected wildflower, so please do not pick it or dig it up for transplanting.
This is one of two vintage postcards I have found which depict the lovely wildflower, the snowplant.
If you are in the high country in late May, keep your eyes open for a flash of bright red. You might be lucky enough to find a lovely snowplant to view it for yourself.


Jennifer D said...

Very interesting. I will have to keep an eye out for those.

Lorlore said...

Who knew!!! What an odd looking, but beautiful plant!! Thanks Tina!!

Heidi Ann said...

I do remember seeing these occasionally in the snow- and it's always so delightful to see that pretty pop of red!
Now I want to see one again. I'll be looking forward to more in your wildflower series of posts!

yosemite faith said...

we were very interested in these when we moved from michigan to california. loved your vintage postcard and enjoyed finding out more. thanks tina