Wednesday, June 29

Cool Plants: Sarcodes saguinea

Under the cover of the pine forests that sprawl across the San Jacinto mountain range, the quiet brown and green underbrush is rarely broken by color as boisterous as the bright red of Sarcodes saguinea, or snow plant, as it is more commonly called. As we made our way through toward the Reserve lodge on our first day Rusty informed us about this odd organism as we all noticed and exclaimed about the bright red anomaly. A member of the heath family, snow plant is utterly devoid of chlorophyll and does not photosynthesize, as most plants do. Instead, this peculiar plant draws its nourishment from decaying, non-living matter in soil, placing it among a group of organisms referred to as saprophytes.

Snow plants grow throughout the mountains of California at elevations of three to ten thousand feet in pine litter on the forest floor. Sarcodes saguinea flowers between May and July, producing bell shaped, bright red flowers of the same color as the stalk. Snow flowers grow up to about one foot in height with a stalk of up to about one and a half inches in diameter at the base.

We got very lucky in terms of the timing of our expedition since it lined up perfectly with the flowering of snow plants. On the overnight trip last night, when we hiked up into the mountains to spend the night, our odyssey resounded with outbursts and excited gestures toward bright red spikes of saprophytic flowers on the forest floor. Every one of these occurrences was accompanied by a pause to appreciate this exuberant flower.

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