Howell’s marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) is a “snowbank” flower, blooming early in the season as soon as the snow melts. The buds of this native perennial are produced in the autumn and remain dormant over the winter. Flowering commences once the snow melts exposing the plant.
A member of the buttercup family, Howell’s marsh marigold (C. leptosepala) is very similar to broad-leafed marsh marigold (C. biflora), differing mainly in leaf size and subtle differences in shape. Most taxonomists combine the two plants under the single species name, leptosepala. To confuse things even more, Caltha howellii is another synonym for Howell’s marsh marigold. Common names for both Howell’s marsh marigold and broad-leafed marsh marigold include white marsh marigold and alpine white marsh marigold.
Frequently forming dense populations in wet places (including streams, seeps, wet meadows), Howell’s marsh marigold grows in sub-alpine and alpine elevations (4,500 to 10,500 feet) in Western North America.
A hairless plant, Howell’s marsh marigold arises from short root stocks. The kidney, arrowhead or heart-shaped leaves are basal. The petioles (stalks) are longer than the leaf blades. The blades are waxy green, smooth-edged or coarsely toothed and are often curling.
Single (occasionally two) flowers occur on leafless stems. There are 6 to 12 white sepals that resemble petals, but there are no petals. The many yellow stamens and pistils are clustered in the center of the sepals.
The fruits are long, clustered, erect follicles (dry fruit that splits along one side to release many seed) that contain many brownish seeds upon maturity.
Native Americans cooked the leaves or ate them raw. The roots were also cooked and eaten.
The genus name, Caltha, is the Latin word for marigold. Leptosepala, the species name, means “thin sepals”. Marigold comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “meargella”, which means “horse gall”. This common name refers to the unopened buds which presumably resemble galls.
In August these specimens were growing and photographed in both the Upper and Lower Kings Creek Meadows at Lassen Volcanic National Park (Lassen County CA).