Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

White Brodiaea, Hyacinth Brodiaea, Wild Hyacinth, Fool's Onion, TRITELEIA HYACINTHINA

from the the June 14, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:

Above if you know your wildflowers you might guess that what you're seeing is one of the many "wild onion" species, genus Allium, especially if you crush a leaf and smell the distinct onion odor. That onion smell is convincing because closely related genera don't have it -- convincing even when you look closely into the flower and see its very unusual filaments -- the stamens' anther-bearing stems -- shown below:

flowers of White Brodiaea, Hyacinth Brodiaea, Wild Hyacinth, Fool's Onion, TRITELEIA HYACINTHINA

In that picture the green, spherical thing is the ovary, then right below the ovary arises a cup-like structure with six pointy teeth along its rim. The cup-like structure is composed of the six stamens' filaments. The points along the rim are small anthers, the baglike items that open to release pollen. A normal stamen's filament is slender and matchstick-like, but here the filaments flatten out and form a bowl or crown above the six white tepals making up the flower's white "corolla." Those filaments are really un-onion-like and in the online Flora of North America I couldn't find a single Allium species among the 96 species described with filaments like them. But, there was that odor of onion...

After an unconscionable amount of time trying to make what's in the picture into an onion, finally it dawned on me that on the morning I'd smelled the flower's oniony odor I'd made myself a good old onion sandwich, so of course my fingers had smelled of onion!

What's in the picture goes by such names as White Brodiaea, Hyacinth Brodiaea and Wild Hyacinth, but in my case the most appropriate common name is Fool's Onion. It's TRITELEIA HYACINTHINA, closely related to the onions, and rather commonly occurring in a variety of low, moist soils, even along roadsides, throughout the Western states.