Leafing through wildflower identification guides I often see interesting plants and wonder if I will ever see them in the wild. Recently while hiking along the Chemise Peak Trail in Redding CA, Leonard and I discovered one of these “bucket list” plants – the firecracker flower (Dichelostemma ida-maia). What excitement!
A native perennial, firecracker flower occurs in northwestern California and southwest Oregon at low to mid elevations. Its habitat is open, grassy slopes in forest openings. Because of its unique, bright red blossoms, firecracker flower is often cultivated as an ornamental outside of its native range.
A member of the lily family, firecracker flower produces corms (underground stem thickened by stored food). There are usually three long, narrow, grass-like leaves at the base of the plant. These leaves often whither by the time of flowering. An umbel (type of inflorescence where stalked flowers arise from a single point) of drooping flowers sits atop a scape (leafless stalk arising directly from the ground). The flower is a bright red perianth (sepals and petals collectively) tube. Six short yellow-green lobes curl back at the end of the red tube. From the center of the curled lobes protrude three short, pale scales and three creme stamens. The seeds are ovoid.
Supposedly, a stagecoach driver showed this plant to an early botanist/collector and suggested the common name because the red flowers looked like a loose cluster of firecrackers tied together by the ends of their fuses. The species name (ida-maia) honors the stagecoach driver’s niece, Ida May.