Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the April 17, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA


I'm seeing lots of wildflowers that are new to me. On grassy slopes around my trailer the most conspicuous one right now is what the locals call Pussy Ears, but the books also call Yellow Star Tulip and other names. It's CALOCHORTUS MONOPHYLLUS, of the Lily Family. You can see a picture I took of one at the right.

That picture highlights what is behind the name "Pussy Ears": The blossom's three, cat-ear-shaped petals are strikingly fuzzy with long, yellow hairs. If you look closely at the hairs you can see that they are enlarged at their tips, like matchsticks. I suspect these tiny knobs help pollinators hold onto the petal as they enter the flower to gather nectar. The plant in my picture is about six inches high but they get taller.

The genus Calochortus embraces species whose slender leaves and stems arise from bulbs, and it seems to be very characteristic of the Sierra Nevadas. Six species are listed in Storer & Usinger's "Sierra Nevada Natural History." I don't recall running into the genus in the East.

Our Yellow Star-tulip is strictly a Sierra-Nevada- foothill species, occurring only in the Ponderosa- Pine-dominated zone between 1200 and 3600 feet. Its distribution map is at the bottom of the page at http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/get_JM_treatment.pl?Calochortus+monophyllus.

By the way, if you're as impressed with the above page as I was you may want to look at its home page at http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu. This site provides an enormous amount of information on the California flora.