As spring rolls into central Oregon, it touches the desert with its brush, adding a new palette of colors after months of winter. One of the first flowers to bloom in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, with its low profile and translucent ghostly petals, is the sand lily (Leucocrinum montanum). My girlfriend and I spotted a few clusters in bloom along the Badlands Rock Trail, but also many plants beginning to pop up and spread its green grass-like leaves across the sandy desert floor.
The flower looks to have six white petals, but it actually only has three, alternating with three sepals which are also white. When petals and sepals are identical, taxonomists refer to them as tepals (a clever anagram of the word petal).1
The seed distribution for the sand lily is unusual and mysterious. When the flowers begin to fade, the part of the plant that lives above ground wilts away entirely, leaving just the ripened fruit pod and its roots. Botanists have yet to discover how these terrestrial pods distribute their black seeds. Some suggest that they are released when the soil is disturbed, others think that the plant pushes the previous-season’s seeds out when it buds in the spring. David Ode, a botanist in South Dacotah and author of Dakota Flora: A Seasonal Sampler,2 suggests that ants help in distributing the seeds.
The sand lily are considered native to most states west of the Mississippi. 3
- USDA Plant of the Week: Star Lily – http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/leucocrinum_montanum.shtml ↩
- Dakota Flora: A Seasonal Sampler – http://www.sdshspress.com/index.php?id=21&action=912 ↩
- Natural Resources Conservation Service: Leucocrinum montanum distribution – http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=LEMO4 ↩