of California's Sierra Nevada Foothills
Read excerpts from Jim Conrad's Naturalist Newsletter concerning these Foothill wildflowers:
Some Interesting Wildflowers:Yellow Star Tulip
One of several species of Calochortus, this species is notable for its very hairy petals, clearly seen in the photo. At the base of each petal there is a large "glandular pit" providing nectar for pollinating insects. Often this species mingles with bluish Bush Lupines in a very pretty manner. Flowers during most of spring, often prettily mixed with lupine.
Many lupine species occur in California and this is one of the most common in the foothills. It is distinguished by blue to red-purple flowers about 1/3-inch long with a white spot on the corolla's upper petal, and smallish leaves (at lower left n the picture, with leaflets spreading like the fingers on a hand). The species may live more than one year but doesn't really woody. It grows in meadows, open spots in the woods, and even in lawns that aren't mowed too often. Flowers during most of spring.
It's hard to believe that this is a clover because of the flat head of flowers and skinny leaflets (as shown at the bottom left of the picture). However, the flowers are structured exactly like clover flowers, and you'll note that the leaflets come in 3s, just like other clovers. This often grows in lawns, and other disturbed or rocky places. Flowers from mid to late spring.
This plant must have been of enormous value to Foothill Indians. During the winter it is easy to locate with its conspicuous, 2-ft-long, wavy-edged rosette of evergreen leaves. The leaves arise from bulbs such as the one shown below. These can be roasted and, without seasoning, taste like fried potatoes and onions. The bulb's scales form a lather with water. Soap Plant flowers in early summer, issuing a 5-ft-high cluster of small flowers, as shown at the right below. The flowers remain closed all day but open a few minutes before sundown.
Leaves, stems and flowers can be eaten in salads! They have little flavor so if you have a good-tasting salad dressing and add a few snips of onion, arrugala, or anything else (or nothing else) you can make a fine salad with plenty of vitamin C. Flowers through most of spring.
Broom-rape or Cancer-root
Widely distributed in North America but usually uncommon wherever it occurs, this 4-inch high wildflower is a parasite without chlorophyl. At the right you see only flowers atop their pedicels. The cream-colored, finger-thick stem is found beneath the pine straw. The broom-rape's root grows through the soil until it meets the root of a potential host species. Then the broom-rape's root tip swells and surrounds the host's root -- this swelling accounts for the "cancer" part of one of its names. The growth then produces filaments penetrating the host root, tapping into both the water-and-mineral conducting tissue (the xylem) and the tissue carrying the host's photosynthesized carbohydrates (the phloem). At 2600 feet in the northern Foothills, flowers in May.
Spotted Coral Root
Walking down a rarely used logging road through fairly intact coniferous forest you might find this pretty orchid. However, the flowers are only about ¼-inch long, so you need a sharp eye. As with Broom-rape, only the flowering stalks, the inflorescences, appear above the ground -- no leaves. The plant's stem, or rhizome, stays belowground, growing in such contortions that it looks like a chunk of coral. Also like Broom-rape, the plant lacks chlorophyll. However, unlike Broom-rape, which is a parasite, coral root is a saprophyte -- with the help of micorrhizae of a soil fungus, its roots derive food from decaying organic matter. At about 3000 feet in the northern foothills Spotted Coral Root flowers around mid May.
This iris grows up to a foot tall from a creeping rootstock. Several subspecies exist, and some flowers show lavender veins in their petals. It's often fairly common in dry, open forest, as well as roadsides and lawns that are not mowed too frequently. California is home to about four wild iris species but this is the common iris of the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Evening Primrose Family
The Jepson Manual's key to the genus Clarkia lists about forty species, and a lot more subspecies. Some Clarkias are common and widespread but others are narrowly endemic, found only in a very small geographic area. The species at the right, distinguished by its "notched" petals and eight stamens, grows naturally only in certain parts of the northern and central Sierra Nevadas. However, where it does occur sometimes you see large populations that are breathtaking, especially in low-slanting morning light. The genus is named in honor of William Clark of Louis-and-Clark fame.
Hairy Gumweed flowers in early summer along with a good number of other yellow-flowered members of the Composite Family. It's unusual because of two things: First, the spiky flower buds, as shown at the bottom right, are topped with a mess of sticky, white latex. When the buds open gradually the latex disappears, leaving a normal looking flower. Apparently the latex keeps insects from eating the immature flowerparts. Second, as the jar at the right attests, some Foothill folks fill jars with gummy heads, pour in alcohol, and once the contents become dark, use the resulting lotion against Poison Oak allergy.