On May Day Leonard and I were driving around Howard Prairie Reservoir in Jackson County OR. Along the road on the south side of the lake we found many species of early spring wildflowers, including the snow queen (Synthyris reniformis). Snow queen is one of the earliest blooming wildflowers, often appearing in December or January of mild winters.
A native perennial, snow queen is a member of the Snapdragon (Figwort) Family. It is found in Washington, California and Oregon growing in open, moist conifer forests at lower elevations and along forest edges.
Snow queen leaves are all basal and arise from a short rhizome. The leaves have long stalks, are heart to kidney shaped, palmately veined, shallowly lobed and are generally purplish beneath. The entire plant is sparsely hairy.
The inflorescence is a loose, terminal cluster of a few flowers at the end of a leafless stem. The light blue flower is a flattened funnel with four lobes and two darker (often reddish) stamens.
Snow queen fruits are flat capsules, notched at the top and hairy on the margins. Each cell contains two seeds.
The genus name, Synthyris, derives from the Greek: “syn” = together and “thyris” = “little door”. The genus name refers to valves in the fruit capsules. “Like a kidney” is the meaning of the species, reniformis, and refers to the leaf shape.
Another common name for S. reniformis is spring queen.