Western False Asphodel

Western false asphodel (Triantha occidentalis) inhabits riparian environments, lake and seepage areas and bogs from Southeast Alaska to Central California. Dersch Meadow in Lassen Volcanic National Park (California) was rather wet in late June when Leonard and I found these specimens.

A native perennial, western false asphodel arises from fairly stout, vertical rhizomes covered with the fibrous remains of old leaves. The solitary, unbranched, leafless stems (peduncles) terminate in a dense cluster of flowers. The base of the peducle is smooth while nearer the inflorescence the stem is covered with sticky hairs tipped with red glands. The leaves of this False Asphodel Family (Tofieldaceae) member are mostly basal and linear (iris like).

The white to cream colored flowers have six spreading, petal-like segments (tepals), six stamens and a three-lobed ovary with three short, recurved styles. The conspicuous anthers are yellow, aging to purplish.

Western false asphodel fruits are large, erect, reddish-purple capsules, three lobed and three beaked, containing numerous seeds enclosed in a spongy coat.

Synonyms for T occidentalis include Tofieldia glutinosa ssp occidentalis and Tofieldia occidentalis. Another colloquial name is western tofieldia. The genus name derives from Greek and means “three flowered” (treis/three and anthemon/flower). Three flowered refers to the flower parts occurring in threes. The species designation in Latin is “western”.

The origin of the common name, asphodel, is unknown but is very ancient. In Homer’s The Odyssey, asphodel is the flower of the Elysian Fields (beautiful meadow in the underworld, the ultimate Paradise).

At rest at last, where souls unbodied dwell, In ever-flow’ring meads of asphodel. Homer: The Odyssey

In the next post: Researchers discover (2021) that asphodel is a carnivorous plant.

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