Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the August 14, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills
somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA
UMBRELLA PLANT/INDIAN RHUBARB
One of the most eye-catching of all the plants in the Sierra Nevada foothills is four or five feet tall and umbrella-shaped, grows in and immediately along small streams, and is found naturally only in northern California and southern Oregon. Going by the names of Umbrella Plant and Indian Rhubarb, it's DARMERA PELTATA, a member of the Saxifrage Family, in which you also find hydrangeas and gooseberries. The plant produces small clusters of pink to white blossoms in April. You can see a cluster of these plants in a garden at http://www.inagarden.com/gallery_13.shtml.
When you come upon a little stream with water rushing over rounded boulders and with banks mantled with cascades of long, frilly fern fronds, the presence of these dignified, exotic-feeling plants is esthetically very pleasing. Such stretches of stream are so picturesque that they'd look at home in the most elegant Japanese garden.
With regard to the rhubarb part of one of its names, I've not tried it yet but I read that the fleshy leafstalk can be peeled and eaten raw or put into a salad, though cooking seems to destroy its flavor. I regard the plant as far too pretty to destroy just for the fun of seeing if its petioles can be digested.