I was so excited when I found a snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea). This striking early spring wildflower is found peeking out from the deep humus of shady conifer forests in the mountains of California, southern Oregon and Nevada. It flowers as soon as the snow clears from the forest floor and does not poke through the snow, as is commonly believed. Often late-season snowfalls cover snow plants, adding fuel to support this myth.
A member of the heath family, the snow plant is a bright red saprophyte that has no chlorophyll and derives its nutrition from dead plant material. Its roots do not even touch the soil in which it grows, rather the roots are totally enclosed in fungi through which nutrients are transferred to the plant.
Shaped like a small Christmas tree, the snow plant is about two inches thick and grows between 6 and 12 inches in height. The leaves are scale-like and the flowers are bell or urn shaped. The leaves, stem and flowers are all brilliant red and contrast spectacularly with the dark brown of the forest floor.
This plant was one of several I discovered near Hat Creek CA. The snow plant is uncommon and should never be picked – enjoy with your eyes and camera only!!