Saturday, June 7, 2008

snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea), for Michelle

Snow PlantAs we were walking through Mariposa Grove, we kept seeing these little plants—gnawed on, mostly—and Michelle (and I) kept wondering what they were. She came up with a name for them, something like "snack plant," which wasn't that far off.

When I came home and looked it up, I was mortified that I forgot this passage from Chapter V, "The Wild Gardens of the Yosemite Park" from Muir's Our National Parks:
To tourists the most attractive of all the flowers of the forest is the snow plant ( Sarcodes sanguinea ). It is a bright red, fleshy, succulent pillar that pushes up through the dead needles in the pine and fir woods like a gigantic asparagus shoot. The first intimation of its coming is a loosening and upbulging of the brown stratum of decomposed needles on the forest floor, in the cracks of which you notice fiery gleams; presently a blunt dome-shaped head an inch or two in diameter appears, covered with closely imbricated scales and bracts. In a week or so it grows to a height of six to twelve inches. Then the long fringed bracts spread and curl aside, allowing the twenty or thirty five-lobed bell-shaped flowers to open and look straight out from the fleshy 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 red. But notwithstanding its glowing color and beautiful flowers, it is singularly unsympathetic and cold. Everybody admires it as a wonderful curiosity, but nobody loves it. Without fragrance, rooted in decaying vegetable matter, it stands beneath the pines and firs lonely, silent, and about as rigid as a graveyard monument.
(bold emphasis mine)

So there you have it, Michelle: the Snow Plant.

[Snow Plant image by Flickr user Ken-ichi]