Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Elegant Brodiaea, BRODIAEA ELEGANS

from the the July 5, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:

One of the most commonly encountered wildflowers blossoming these days is also one of the prettiest, the Elegant Brodiaea, BRODIAEA ELEGANS, shown above.

Though Brodiaeas often are grown in gardens, they occur in the wild only in western North America. They're a whole different kind of wildflower not found naturally anyplace else on Earth. Brodiaea bulbs are an important food source for burrowing rodents. Native Americans ate the bulbs, which are reported as having a nutty flavor.

Our Elegant Brodiaeas turn up in serpentine barrens, rocky outcrops and even roadsides, especially where earlier in the year water might have pooled or flowed. At first glance the large, violet blossoms remind you of gentians. However, when you do the botany you soon realize that you have a Lily Family member here. You can see down into the distinctive-looking blossom below:

Elegant Brodiaea, BRODIAEA ELEGANS, flower

Six purple, petal-like "tepals" surround the sexual parts in the center. The pale structure in the blossom's center consists mostly of three male stamens pressing around the female part like three upraised hands. Each stamen is topped with two baglike anther locules, each of the six locules splitting lengthwise to release pollen. Between each of the three anthers a fuzzy stigma curves outward.

The most distinctive features of the blossom, though, are the three pale, tonguelike things with green bases between the purple tepals and pale sex parts. Those are staminodia, which are sterile structures derived from stamens. Most blossoms in the world of flowers don't have them, but some do; most but not all Brodiaeas have them. These are particularly large, conspicuous ones. I would guess that in this species the staminodia's service to the blossom is to force visiting pollinators against the sexual parts, assuring that pollen is left on the out-curving stigmas, and collected from the long anthers locules.