California Wild Rose
CALIFORNIA WILD ROSE (Rosa, various species)
The California wild rose is a sprawling shrub with the characteristic leaf pattern
found on any common garden variety of rose. The leaf pattern consists of 5 to 7
oval, toothed, leaflets on a single stem. The wild rose leaflets are anywhere from
¾” to 1½” long. Unlike most cultivated roses, the wild rose always contains simple
flowers each consisting of five petals, pink in color with a yellow center ringed
slightly by white. One can see the wild rose bloom in late spring and summer followed
by the typical “rose hips” fruit. Three varieties can be found in Southern California
differing slightly as to the size and orientation of the thorns. The California
rose (Rosa californica) is the most common variety found primarily in moist areas
such as along stream beds. In addition to appreciating its delicate flower, any
close observer of the California wild rose will have the pleasure of enjoying its
CORN LILY (Veratrum californicum)
Found in the mountain meadows in large clusters the Corn Lily makes a spectacular
display. Corn lilies get their name from their huge leaves, resembling those on
cornstalks. It grows between 4’ to 8’ high with large, broad leaves (8” –12”long)
which angle upward. Flowers form a dense cluster of small, whitish or greenish petals,
which bloom, June-August. The California Corn Lily is extremely poisonous.
FIREWEED (Epilobium angustifolium)
Fireweed is a spectacular plant due to its brilliant pink floral spires blooming
at the tops of tall, majestic, leafy stems. It often grows in spectacular dense
patches, and, though attractive, is aggressive in a moist garden, spreading from
persistent underground stems. Usually deep pink but occasionally white, the fireweed
flowers consist of 4 sepals with 4 petals ½” to ¾ “ in length. The leaves are 4”
to 6” long with veins joined in loops near the leave’s edge. The fireweed fruit
is a pod 2” to 3” long, slender in shape and stands out rigidly from the stem. It
flowers between June and September and is most often found in disturbed soil in
cool areas. Fireweed can be observed in the lowlands and well into the mountains,
frequently appearing along highways and in burned areas, therefore, its common name.
INDIAN PAINTBRUSH (Castilleja miniata)
The Indian paintbrush appears to have spikes of vivid red flowers, however, they
are actually leaf-like bracts that enfold its true small, inconspicuous greenish
flowers. The leaves on the lower portion of each stalk are usually quite narrow,
whereas, the colorful bracts are often divided into three narrow lobes. There are
at least four species of Indian paintbrush indigenous to our mountains. They are
generally similar in appearance, usually varying in size from 1’ to 2’ tall and
found in small clusters generally in dry areas, either brushy or rocky. The exception
to this is the giant red Indian paintbrush, which is a larger variety reaching up
to 3’ tall. This plant prefers moist soils and can be found in large stands in wet
LEMON LILY (Lilium Parryi)
Found along wet banks of streams, moist meadows, and springs, the lemon lily is
restricted to wet areas. It ranges from 2’ to 5’ in height, and can be located anywhere
from 4,000’ to 9,000’ in elevation. The single stem has alternating lance-shaped
leaves 3” to 6” long. The single, sometimes two per plant, lemon yellow flower may
be up to 2” or more across and has a delicate fragrance. It is literally a rare
beauty, because it is a most uncommon plant. Count yourself blessed if you come
across one. Another lily more common to our mountains is the leopard lily with its
distinctive whorls of leaves and more abundant flowers.
LUPINE (Lupinus, many species)
The Lupine is a most distinctive flower, highly varied, and coming in many sizes.
From the miniature, ground hugging variety to the type that is large and bushy growing
up to 5’ tall, the leaves of all lupines are unique, usually with anywhere from
5 to 9 leaflets spreading out like fingers in all directions from the stem. The
one exception is the many-leafed lupine which may have up to 17 leaflets. The flowers
are also distinctive: consisting of a long spike or raceme in shades of purple,
or white, and occasionally yellow. With the exception of the ground hugging mat
lupine, these plants are quite showy and easily observed. Legend has it that the
name, lupine, is derived from the Latin word lupus, meaning wolf. It was once believed
that wolves caused tremendous devastation to the landscape. Therefore, because lupines
are quick to come in on disturbed soils, the alleged destructive connection with
the wolf was made. Of the more than eleven varieties or species of lupine found
in our mountains, most are located at elevations above 4,000’. The common roadside
lupine, usually seen below 6,000’ elevation, is typically 1’ to 2’ tall with either
white or bluish-purple flowers.
Pineneedle Beardtongue (Penstemon pinifolius)
PENSTEMON (numerous species)
There are more than ten species of penstemon and the closely related keckiella in
our mountains. They grow mostly as bushy shrubs, and one grows as a vine-like plant.
The flowers of all the varieties are similar, being tubular in nature, growing 1.5”
or less in length, with an upper and lower lip at the end of the tube. The upper
lip is divided into two parts and the lower into three. Both the lips themselves
and the divisions are more pronounced in some species than in others. The lips are
least obvious in the scarlet bugler (Penstemon labrosus). Three common examples
of the penstemon would be the showy penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis), scarlet bugler
(Penstemon centranthifolius), and beardtongue (Penstemon grinnellii). The most common
flower color is a deep red or scarlet; the next most common is purple. The beardtongue
is light colored, almost a pale washed out purple or lavender, and the lesser common
yellow keckiella is yellow with purple lines.
SNOWPLANT (Sarcodes sanguinea)
The snowplant is most unusual and a very unforgettable plant. When you come accross
a snow plant consider yourself lucky because they are a rather rare sight. The snowplant
appears singly or in small groups and consists of a vivid red spike sticking up
from the soil or pine litter on the forest floor. Most likely, the snowplant got
its name because it may appear before the last of the winter snows have melted,
creating a blood red contrast with the white snow. The snowplant has no green color
because it lacks chlorophyll. Without chlorophyll a plant does not have the ability
to create its own food through photosynthesis. Therefore, the snowplant is categorized
as a saprophyte, the term used to describe plants that take their nourishment from
dead and decaying plant material.
WILD COLUMBINE (Aquilegia formosa)
Because it is a plant of moist, shaded places, columbine is usually found along
streams. It flowers in the summer and is typically 2’ to 3’ high. The columbine’s
leaves are mostly on the lower portion of the stems and have an airy appearance
with their 3 separate leaflets, each with 3 lobes. The long flower stalks rise gracefully
above the leafy portion of the plant and the flowers hang down from the stalks.
The flower’s sepals and petals have 2 distinct parts. Five red sepals (part of the
flower which appears below the actual petals) spread outwards or turn back slightly.
The 5 actual petals are mostly yellow and point downwards from the sepals. They
are shaped somewhat like miniature ice cream cones, the lower portions of which
are red and extend to the back beyond the sepals. Many slender red stamens protrude
from the flower adding a final touch of grace and contrast to this unforgettable
WILD IRIS (Iris missouriensis, Western Blue Flag)
The Western Blue Flag is native to the southern California mountains and if you
are familiar with the garden variety iris, you can’t mistake recognizing this stunning
flower. Western Blue Flag grows at higher elevations, and can be found in sunny,
open, moist areas such as meadows, surrounded by forests. This Iris is a foot or
so high perennial with 2-3 inch, pale lavender flowers with one or more long, narrow
leaves rising from the base. The large flower has 6 segments united briefly at the
base and then spreading broadly, with 3 segments staying erect and 3 curving downwards
or drooping. These late spring flowers are purplish with lighter areas near the
base and veins that are darker in color. The wild iris is rarely seen but well worth
seeking. As you drive into town from the dam, near Medcalf Bay, on the west side
of The Timberline Lodge there is a open meadow where the Iris's bloom every year.
YARROW (Achillea millefolium)
The yarrow is a distinctive plant which grows up to 3’ high, but is usually smaller.
Common yarrow is an erect herbaceous perennial plant that produces one to several
stems and has a rhizomatous growth form.The leaves are quite lacy and fernlike growing
up to 4” in length. The tiny white flowers occur in flat-headed clusters, and bloom
from late spring through mid summer The yarrrow prefers soils which are slightly
moist and may often be seen in or on the edges of mountain meadow.
The plant has a long history as a powerful 'healing herb' used topically for wounds,
cuts and abrasions. Yarrow was also know as Arrowroot and was used as a food; it
was a very popular vegetable in the seventeenth century.The leaves can be dried
and used as a herb in cooking.
COW PARSNIP (Heracleum maximum)
The Cow Parsnip is a tall attractive plant, reaching heights from 3-10 feet. Leaves are divided into 3 segments with coarsely toothed leaflets and a broad wing at the base of each leaf stalk. The stems are rough, hairy, hollow and grooved. Cow Parsnip has flower umbels that are white or cream. The flowers have 5 petals of different sizes and are arranged in broad, flat-topped clusters at the top of short stalks.
The juice of all parts of the plant contains a phototoxin that can cause a burning rash, blistering, and severe dermatitis. The wild food literature warns that cow parsnip can irritate the skin if you collect it in direct sun while sweating
The plant is an herb and is used by herbalists and various Native American tribes used all parts the plant for different reasons.