A thank you today to Mario Vaden of Oregon for sharing this photograph. Mario is a frequent contributor to the UBC Botanical Garden Forums (here’s where he posted this photograph), but he’s also a frequent traveller in southern Oregon and northern California; browse through his photographs to see images from one of my favourite parts of the world.
Mario took this image of an emerging Sarcodes sanguinea in the Red Buttes Wilderness. Breaking down the scientific name for the plant, Sarcodes means flesh-like, while sanguinea refers to the colour red (typically blood-red or bright red). While you might expect its common name to refer to its colour in some way, snowplant is used instead. Snowplant is so named because of this plant’s emergence from the soil at the end of the snow melt season in the conifer-covered hills and mountains of Oregon, California and Baja California (Mario took this photo in mid-May).
Dr. James Reveal has written a comprehensive article about Sarcodes sanguinea, with particular attention to the efforts of 19th century botanists to learn more about the plant. Dr. Reveal also quotes John Muir‘s writing from “The Yosemite” (1912), which I’ll reproduce here:
The snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) is more admired by tourists than any other in California. It is red, fleshy and watery and looks like a gigantic asparagus shoot. Soon after the snow is off the ground it rises through the dead needles and humus in the pine and fir woods like a bright glowing pillar of fire. In a week or so it grows to a height of eight or twelve inches with a diameter of an inch and a half or two inches; then its long fringed bracts curl aside, allowing the twenty- or thirty-five-lobed, bell-shaped flowers to open and look straight out from the axis. It is said to grow up through the snow; on the contrary, it always waits until the ground is warm, though with other early flowers it is occasionally buried or half-buried for a day or two by spring storms. The entire plant – flowers, bracts, stem, scales, and roots – is fiery red. Its color could appeal to one’s blood. Nevertheless, it is a singularly cold and unsympathetic plant. Everybody admires it as a wonderful curiosity, but nobody loves it as lilies, violets, roses, daisies are loved. Without fragrance, it stands beneath the pines and firs lonely and silent, as if unacquainted with any other plant in the world; never moving in the wildest storms; rigid as if lifeless, though covered with beautiful rosy flowers.
In addition to the photographs on Dr. Reveal’s site, Calphotos provides another 72(!) images of Sarcodes sanguinea.
Like the previously featured Monotropa uniflora and Allotropa virgata, Sarcodes sanguinea is also a mycoheterotroph (see the Monotropa link for an explanation to jog your memory, if necessary). It was observed that it only grows with a specific fungal symbiont in the Rhizopogon ellenae species complex in two sampled regions – it is possible that a similar pattern of specificity exists throughout its entire distribution.