Distinguishing characteristics of clasping twisted stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius) are a a right-angled pedicel (stalk) from which hangs a single bell-like flower. A single flower arises from each leaf axil.
A native perennial, clasping twisted stalk grows from thick, short rhizomes covered with fibrous roots. The smooth, branched stem is bent at the nodes. The oval to lance-shaped leaves are glaucous (covered with white powder that can be rubbed off) beneath, parallel veined and pointed. The leaf margins may have inconspicuous, irregularly spaced teeth. The name clasping twisted stalk, and the variation claspleaf twisted stalk, describes the leaves which do not have stalks but clasp the stem.
Like most members of the Lily Family (Liliaceae) clasping twisted stalk flowers have their parts in threes. The white to greenish-tinged flowers have six petals and a superior ovary. The fruits are yellow to red oval to oblong berries that sometimes turn dark purple with maturity.
Aboriginal peoples considered the plants and berries poisonous. Europeans ate the young shoots, which taste like cucumber, and native peoples learned to do the same. The berries of clasping twisted stalk are also edible and taste like watermelon. The berries are laxative and eating them in large quantities gave this plant the common name scoot berry. Watermelon berry and wild cucumber, other colloquial names, refer to the taste of the berries and the young shoots.
Clasping twisted stalk grows across many temperate areas of North America, Europe and Asia. It is also found in Greenland. Its habitat is moist, shady woods, streambanks and thickets and clearings from low to subalpine elevations.
The genus name, Streptopus,comes from the Greek words “streptos/twisted” and “podus/foot”. In Latin the species designation, amplexifolius, means “surrounding leaf”.
These clasping twisted stalk plants were growing along Fern Canyon Trail at Prairie Creek Redwoods National and State Park in California and were photographed in May.