Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the the April 26, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:
One of the most curious signs of spring here is shown breaking through very hard, gravelly soil alongside a road, and next to a California Black Oak leaf, above.
That's usually called the California Groundcone, or sometimes Broomrape. It's BOSCHNIAKIA STROBILACEA. The plants, not yet flowering, are quite common here. They're not green because they don't photosynthesize their own food; they steal their food, being parasitic on the roots of our abundant manzanitas and madrones. That's why they're all in a line, rising above the manzanita or madrone root they're tapped into with rootlike "haustoria." Later, flowers will emerge from between the plants' purple bracts.
These plants are so weird that they belong to their own family, the Broomrape Family, or Orobanchaceae. The genus Boschniakia is native to western North America and extreme northeastern Asia, which means they're not found in eastern North America. However, the East has somewhat similar plants in the same family but a different genus.
NOTE ADDED May 21, 2009: Judging from the number of pictures on the Internet similar to the above, yellow variations are not too uncommon. This group returns year after year, always yellow.