Siskiyou wildflowers – 4/10/11

The wildflower season is beginning here, during a strange spring with early warmth and late snows, but truth be told the first wild flower to bloom at our place was back in February, and it was this one:

Dandelion Taraxacum officinale

Look familiar? It’s the much-maligned dandelion, Taraxacum officinale. If it weren’t such an invasive and persistent plant, we would find the flowers quite attractive: they’re numerous, vivid yellow against a basal rosette of dark green leaves, and have an attractive seedhead. The seeds exemplify a smart strategy too, in that they don’t require pollination to develop. You may have noticed this when looking into a container where you have discarded dandelion flowers or plants that you uprooted. The buds—even if not open when the plant was pulled—often go on to open and develop seeds via a process called apomixis. The seeds will be viable.

The first two showy blooms of what we usually call wildflowers began a couple of weeks ago with Henderson’s Shooting Star, Dodecatheon hendersonii

Henderson’s Shooting Star, Dodecatheon hendersonii

and the Trout Lily or Fawn Lily, Erythronium hendersonii.

Erythronium hendersonii flower underside

It is a good year for the erythronium, with many having 2 or even 3 flowers, and both leaves and flowers often larger than we’ve seen them in the past.

Erythronium hendersonii, flowers and leaves

The darkly mottled leaves give these plants their common names of Fawn Lily or Trout Lily, and I find them quite beautiful though hard to photograph. The surface is never quite in focus; perhaps there’s a covering of microscopic hairs that interfere with my camera’s auto-focus function.

Erythronium hendersonii, leaf

Individual Trout Lily blooms have a short life; in a week they’re fading and withering. But we will be able to find them for a few weeks longer as they bloom at higher elevations or in shadier spots. Mixed sun and shade seems to be their preference.

This plant on a steep sunny slope in scree has, I think, been the “victim” of aggressive wildfire fuel reduction efforts about a month ago that removed most shrubs and small trees and caused decomposed rock from above to come down the slope. Few plants of any sort appeared through the scree, and I’d be surprised if the several erythroniums I saw today are there next spring.

Erythronium hendersonii in scree

A plant with four buds, more than we have ever seen before.

Erythronium buds 5687

Both of these native wildflowers are named for “The Grand Old Man of Northwest Botany“, Louis F. Henderson (1853-1942). You can read more about him here, and even see a photo of him with a smile on his face. Nineteenth-century scientists maintained grim demeanors for their portraits (perhaps just conforming to the expectations of their time, but of the people I see on television these days the ones who look truly happy are mostly field scientists like geologists, palaeontologists, and botanists. Cosmologists and astronomical scientists also look cheerful and absorbed in their future work. Zoologists generally look concerned, as they’re usually asked to talk about how the creatures they’ve studied are threatened by human activities.

Previous posts (2009, 2010) about E. hendersonii.

Yellow erythronium – wildflower or cultivar?


Two or three years ago we bought this erythronium at a local nursery, Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery, that specializes in alpine plants. For once I didn’t squirrel away the plant tags or even write things down. Their online catalog now lists no erythroniums, but maybe if I call them they’ll remember.

In the meantime, it has flourished in the shady dry place where we planted it, and is in full bloom.


Next to it, below, is E. hendersonii, the species we see most often. There are many of them on our property which we’ve encouraged through benign neglect (and seen positive results, too, which isn’t always the case with that technique).


Any suggestions as to what species this yellow beauty might be? As I mentioned in my previous post, the genus is noted for hybridization or intermediate forms, so it may be a challenge. It does not look like the yellow trout lilies of the eastern US. Erythronium americanum has orange-ish stamens and more mottled foliage (see flower picture and foliage photo, with description). Erythronium umbilicatum and Erythronium rostratum have differently shaped flowers (1, 2).

Spring in the Siskiyous: more great wildflowers

In a previous post I showed off one local member of the species Erythronium, E. hendersonii, with pinkish/purplish flowers. This morning up on the middle fork of the Applegate River we found something different, which is probably Erythronium citrinum S Watson, the pale fawn lily.

Another possibility is E. oregonum but Flora of North America says that species is found at altitudes of 0 – 500 m, with E. citrinum at 100 – 1300 m and we found these at 750 m or higher. In addition, the Pacific Bulb Society mentions unusually dark leaves being common on E. citrinum and we saw those. In the end, though, I’m no botanist and won’t wager anything on my identifications of Erythronium species, particularly given what Flora of North America says in the article on citrinum:

Plants lacking auricles on inner tepals are sometimes segregated as Erythronium howellii, Howell’s fawn-lily, but they do not appear to differ from typical E. citrinum in any other characters.
Erythronium citrinum intergrades with E. californicum and E. hendersonii, occasional populations or individuals displaying intermediate or recombined characteristics. [and no, “tepals” is not a typo but a botanical term for one variety of what the rest of us lump together as “petals”]

Anyway, here’s what we saw, beautiful by any name.


The plants are a bit larger and more robust than the pink-flowered E. hendersonii, and the petals are white touched with yellow at the base.

E. oregonum1.jpg

The mottling of the leaves is more pronounced than the leaves of E. hendersonii, and a few plants had nearly chocolate-colored leaves.


Here’s one more close-up; perhaps someone can make an ID from it.

E. citrinum closeup.jpg

Another species with a white flower touched with yellow is Erythronium montanum, the avalanche lily, but its leaves are plain green, not spotted. The photo below is from Wikipedia. There’s a fantastic close-up of its flowers at the Botany Flower of the Day site.


Rattlesnake plantain, Goodyera oblongifolia, also has distinctively marked leaves, which grow in rosettes flat to the ground. It’s at the left in the picture below, with a damaged erythronium leaf on the right.

EOregonum& Rattlesnake plantain1.jpg

The common name “plantain” simply refers to the broad leaves; actually Goodyera oblongifolia is a member of the orchid family, with a spire of small white flowers. I can’t remember ever seeing it in bloom.

Yesterday, in a moist environment above the Applegate River, we found this beauty:


It’s a member of Ribes, the gooseberry or currant family, probably Ribes roezlii, the shiny-leaved gooseberry. Mostly evergreen, with thorns. Wild gooseberries/currants are edible, according to what I read, though some including R. roezlii have berries that are prickly or hairy (photos).

In this wetter area, there were also several of the chocolate lily, Fritillaria affinis, mentioned in a previous post in connexion with the scarlet fritillary seen on an earlier walk.


The flowers weren’t open quite yet but are still striking.


Here’s a plant with a handsome and unusual leaf, as yet unidentified.


Finally, here’s a sweet little wildflower, Viola nuttallii (Nuttall’s violet, Yellow prairie violet). We saw it yesterday in that moister environment overlooking the river.


It’s a food plant for the larva of the Coronis Fritillary butterfly, Speyeria coronis, seen below.


(Photo by Jeffrey Pippen)

We’ve marked down a couple of spots to revisit in a few days, to find out what sort of flowers will appear from some unknown plants. Most of them look lily-ish, just a couple of large linear leaves. What surprises do they hold? even the Shadow doesn’t know, unless he’s keyed out these plants. I’ll wait and be surprised.

Calypso orchid sighting

Finding a calypso orchid on our walk Saturday was a surprise, because its expected habitat is undisturbed moist old-growth forest. The place where we were walking is anything but that: it’s right beside a paved forest road, and over the past 150 years or so there has been much disturbance by a succession of loggers, hydraulic miners, gold panners and dredgers, hikers, hunters, and brush clearing for fire suppression. We spotted the orchid as we returned to the road from looking at other flowers lower on the slope, and it was growing within 5 feet of the pavement. Our interest attracted Jack the mastiff who wanted to see what we were looking at, and then we had to protect the flower from his big feet.

Calypso orchid1.jpg

The full name is Calypso bulbosa var.occidentalis, or the Pacific or Western Fairy Slipper; there’s a paler variety in the eastern US, Calypso bulbosa var. americana, or the Eastern Fairy Slipper. (The Washington Native Orchid Society has a good description of both with photos, here.) And its actual distribution is circumpolar, with two other varieties being found in Eurasia and Japan (map).

I enjoy identifying what we see, plant or animal, not so that I can check it off my life list (I don’t have one) but because then I find out more about it. Doing a bit of research for this post, I found that the Calypso orchid requires a mycorrhizal partner—a fungus that extracts extra nutrients from the soil which the plant, with its single leaf, is unable to generate. These partnerships between fungi and plants are, as we are coming to discover, common. Only painstaking investigation can detect them. The relationships are specific, a particular fungus with a particular plant species. It’s one reason why many wild plants have proven nearly impossible to transplant to gardens.

Regardless of your motives or expertise, please leave wildflowers where you find them; many are struggling enough with various human-caused disturbances. The flower you pick may be the only one the plant will produce for this year or several years, so picking it means no chance of producing seeds. And for the Calypso orchid and others, it’s even worse: picking or disturbance can mean the death of the plant

The Calypso orchid is being rapidly exterminated in populated areas due to trampling and picking. The corms are attached by means of delicate roots. These roots can be broken by even the lightest tug of the stem. Hence, when the flower is picked the plant usually dies. [WNOS page]

The Calypso orchid produces no nectar but fools bees into visiting with—depending on which expert is talking—its color, shape, fragrance, or the tiny hairs on the flower (visible below).


One who has studied this phenomenon in the eastern variety of Calypso orchids claims that the bees learn by experience not to bother with these unrewarding flowers, after visiting a few Calypsos and thereby cross-pollinating them. Only queen honeybees live very long, so each spring there’s a new population of worker bees to be fooled by Calypso, the orchid named after a sea nymph who loved Odysseus and kept him on her island for seven years, while he longed to be on his way back home. The name means “hidden” or “I will conceal” in Greek, and presumably refers to the orchid’s inconspicuous habit, close to the ground in shaded spots.