Another common plant of open sites (grassy meadows, slopes and rocky areas) which are composed of dry, sandy and gravelly soil, is brodiaea (Brodiaea douglasii). About 16 native species of this lily family member are found in the West. The nomenclature of brodiaea is very confusing. B. douglasii is the most widespread and populous brodiaea of the sagebrush steppe where these specimens were found. However, there is much variation within each species. In addition, there are two subgroups in the genus Brodiaea, which are sometimes considered as separate genera. So perhaps I should simply call this wildflower Brodiaea sp.
Brodiaea are purplish (sometimes white or blue) flowers composed of 6 petals fused into a tube at the base. There are three fertile stamens and three unfertile stamens. The flowers are in a loose, umbel-like cluster at the distal end of a stem borne from a corm (short, vertical, thickened, underground stem) buried deep in the soil. One or two grass like leaves also arise from the corm, but are often dried out before the flowers bloom. The plant itself is nothing more than some flowers at the end of a flexuous stem. As plain as the plant seems, the flowers are beautiful, particularly when massed as a purple blanket in a field.
Brodiaea are often confused with wild onions (Allium) which they closely resemble. The deeply buried corms, like the bulbs of wild onions, is edible. While the wild onions have a distinctive onion smell and taste, brodiaea taste more nut like. The brodiaea corms are often described as mucilaginous, but I do find them so. They are good. I like the corms raw. Native Americans made prodigious use of brodiaea in the spring, eating them roasted or lightly boiled. Since this wildflower is lost when the bulb or corm is dug, it is no longer appropriate to feast on brodiaea, rather just try one or two bulbs.
The genus name for this plant honors James Brodie, a Scottish botanist ( 1744-1824).
These brodiaea were growing in a meadow along with Oregon sunshine near Highway 299E south of Fall River Mills CA (Shasta County).