Tolmie’s Pussy Ears

Dr. William Fraser Tolmie (1812 – 1886) discovered and named Calochortus tolmiei, commonly known as Tolmie’s pussy ears or Tolmie star tulip. Dr. Tolmie was born in Scotland and ended up with the Hudson Bay Company in the Pacific Northwest. Throughout his life he was a surgeon, fur trader, scientist and politician.

Tolmie’s pussy ears grows on dry grassy slopes and woodlands below 6,000 feet. It prefers poor, rocky soil. This native perennial can be found in California, Oregon and Washington, although a couple references suggest that it may be extinct in Washington.

The bulb from which the upright, branching stem grows can be eaten raw or cooked. But why destroy such a beautiful wildflower for the small bulbs.

The grass-like basal leaf is about the same height as the stem and does not wither when the plant flowers. There is usually a smaller leaf further up on the Tolmie’s pussy ears stem. The genus name, Calochortus, is from the Greek and means “beautiful grass”.

Each Tolmie’s pussy ears flower has 2 (or more) bracts that are as long as the pedicel (flower stalk) and subtends (below and close to) the pedicel. There is one to several white to pale pink or purple flowers per stem. Each flower has three lance-shaped sepals and three petals that are hairy over the entire inner surface. The petals stain deep lavender near their base. The six anthers are white to blue to purple. The ovary is three-celled with many ovules in two rows in each locule (chamber).

The fruits of Tolmie’s pussy ears are nodding, winged capsules, each containing several dark brown seeds.

Leonard and I found these specimens along Waters Gulch Trail at Lake Shasta (Shasta County Ca) in April.

 

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One Response to Tolmie’s Pussy Ears

  1. tonytomeo says:

    I would not have recognized that as a calochortus. It is too grassy. Well, I don’t know. It is hard to tell from the picture, and I do not remember how grassy the leaves of the native species are.

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