I do not know if it is the lack of rain, the cold temperatures or some other variable, but the wildflowers seem to be blooming later this year. Leonard and I began searching in early February for some of the first flowers (often a violet species) only to be disappointed. So on February 21st we were delighted to finally find what we believed to be a California fawn lily (Erythronium californicum) along the McCloud River Arm of Lake Shasta (Gilliam Road) in Shasta County CA. This lily was clinging to a north-facing limestone outcrop.
As I examined the fawn lily further, I realized that the anthers were yellow, not white. California fawn lilies have white anthers. Leonard and I happened upon a small colony of Shasta fawn lilies (Erythronium shastense). Shasta fawn lilies were originally described by York, Nelson and Taylor in 2015 in the journal “Madrono” (California Botanical Society). Taylor encountered the plant in 1993, Nelson noted it in 2010 and 2012 and York independently found the plant in the same watershed.This new species is “restricted largely to low-elevation limestone outcrops near Shasta Lake”. It has a California Native Plant Society Rare Plant Ranking of 1B.2 meaning it is rare, threatened or endangered.
Shasta fawn lily is a member of the Lily Family. A perennial, it grows from a bulb and can form clumps due to bulb offsets where there is enough soil. The basal leaves are green and “fawn spotted” with brown or white with undulate margins. One to three flowers occur at the terminal end of a reddish peduncle (stalk) that arises directly from the ground. The six white, lanceolate tepals (not clearly a sepal or petal) are golden yellow at the base, pinkish in the bud and fading to pinkish or purplish after anthesis (when flower fully opened and functional). The anthers are yellow and the stigma is declined (below and bending toward the ground away from the anthers). The fruits are ovoid capsules.
Shasta fawn lilies bloom in February, March and April with the fruits maturing in May. By summer the leaves and other above ground vegetation have withered and only the underground bulb remains.
Shasta fawn lily strongly resembles California fawn lily and Pacific fawn lily (Erythronium helenae). In addition to their restricted distribution around Lake Shasta, Shasta fawn lilies have longer styles, leaves and stamens than Pacific fawn lilies. Also, Shasta fawn lilies grow on calciferous substrates while Pacific fawn lilies prefer serpentine soils. California fawn lilies have white anthers and their stigmas are not declined, Shasta fawn lilies have declined stigmas and yellow anthers.
Hydrologic alteration, development, collection, limestone mining, non-native plant invasion, trail and road construction and maintenance and climate change are all factors threatening this rare species.
Our first wildflower of the year was an especially exciting find because the Shasta fawn lily is a rare species only recently described.