Sequoias and Snow Plants

giant sequoiaIf you have read my recent blog posts, you can see a plant identification-theme forming. I promise it won’t be forever but today I have one more to throw at you.

This time I will take you to the giant sequoias, to a very famous forest called the Mariposa Grove. In my many years of visiting Yosemite I had never been south of the valley to visit these mighty giants. They will be closing the grove this summer for two years as they work to restore the area and improve the visitor experience, so I figured this was my chance to walk among some of the biggest trees in the world and see what all the hype was about.

I have to say, they did not disappoint! I was humbled by their sheer size and strength, and I wondered what they have endured over the hundreds and sometimes thousands of years of their existence. Since I am less familiar with the giant sequoia forests than coast redwood, it wasn’t difficult to find plants I didn’t know. This beautiful red structure popping out of the ground immediately caught my eye and intrigued me. My first question was, “What is this?” It didn’t appear to have leaves, so was it a plant or a fungus? The red structure didn’t look like typical flowers. This “thing” greatly tested my observation skills.

Snow plant. Photo by Isolino, Flickr Creative Commons
Snow plants. Photo by Isolino, Flickr Creative Commons

I soon learned that it was none other than snow plant, which has quite the interesting story. It’s a plant, but a parasitic one because it gets its nutrients from fungi in the soil. It does not have leaves so therefore no chlorophyll and is unable to photosynthesize and produce its own food. So the underground fungi provide the plant with the food it needs to grow. The red structure I observed is the flower, which emerges when the snow melts in the mountains, creating a dramatic visual of red flowers against white snow.

You can learn more about snow plant by watching this Yosemite Nature Notes Video.


About the author

Deborah joined the League's staff in 2013 as the Education & Interpretation Manager. She brings with her extensive experience teaching science, developing curriculum and connecting kids to the natural world.

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