The parasitic snow plants are blazing at Tahoe.

Mr. and Mrs. C. invited us to their cabin again on the south end of Lake Tahoe. At 6,000 ft. elevation it’s still pretty brisk in May, but the sky was SO blue, the lake was SO blue, and the air was dry, full of the smells of pine trees and cedars with some wood smoke thrown in. I breathed deeply.

Here is a map if you need to get your bearings. The lake itself lies on the Nevada-California state line. We usually approach from the southwest and drive through the state capital of Sacramento to get there.

I had escaped the world down below where picture storage was one of the many time-consuming computer problems that had recently worn me out, and I arrived with a reluctance to use my camera. Of course that didn’t last long, especially when wildflowers are out. May in the Sierras brings flowers you can’t see in the summertime, so I had to seize my opportunity, didn’t I? My other blog posts about the Tahoe area have different photos from what I came away with this time.

Cascade Lake in foreground, Tahoe in distance.

We hiked to the top of Cascade Falls one day. It drops and flows into Cascade Lake which lies just south of Emerald Bay, a little higher in elevation. This picture was taken from a granite shelf looking as straight-down as I could manage to the bottom of the falls.

Sticky Cinqefoil
                      This looks to me like some kind of buttercup but I haven’t found it in a book yet. (Update: I added the caption after one of my readers enlightened me.)

The Snow Plants have popped up all over, here and there on the floor of the conifer forest, with no leaves. Mrs. C. was coveting one, wondering how she might get a specimen to grow near the cabin, but what I found out on Wikipedia when I came home makes me think that would be near impossible to make happen.

The snow plant is sarcodes sanguinea, the only species in the genus sarcodes, in the heath family. It is unable to photosynthesize its own food, “…a parasitic plant that derives sustenance and nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi that attach to roots of trees.” Now I can imagine the roots of these bright plants extending deeply into the world of tree roots. If we are lucky, perhaps the right conditions will in the future concur and surprise Mrs. C. with a burst of red.

A lagoon by Kiva Beach

Another color that got my attention was the sand around Lake Tahoe. We took the yellow lab to swim and fetch and I sat on the shore and considered how all the grains of sand were warm golden tones, not like any ocean beach I’ve seen.


Wooly Mule’s Ears, also known as mountain mule’s ears, were in bloom, and I got a photo of them as in a perennial bed planted by Mother Nature, with a border of Squaw Carpet in front.

Wyethia mollis and Ceanothus prostratus

Here’s a nice flowering bush that I don’t know. Maybe someone reading this knows this plant? It grows in the forests on public land and in private yards. (Update: the same reader in a comment below is kind enough to tell us that this is Western Serviceberry.)


Did you ever do a Google image search of “lichen”? Amazing, amazing plants. Here is one of the more subtle designs, which we saw on a rock at the top of Cascade Falls, a lovely arrangement of vegetable and mineral and just one example of how God’s artwork is splashed all around the world for our pleasure and His glory. Thank You, Lord, for the refreshment.

6 thoughts on “The parasitic snow plants are blazing at Tahoe.

  1. The yellow “buttercup” flower is sticky cinquefoil (Potentilla glandulosa). The white-flowered shrub is Western Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia). Tahoe certainly looks lovely! Glad you had a chance to enjoy it in the spring.

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  2. Thank you for sharing, GJ! What a wonderful place to visit in May! I'm always amazed at the difference b/t various parts of the country, not just in plant growth, but in general landscape, and even soil.

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  3. I grew up knowing the red flowers as “snow flowers,” and the ones you show with the large, broad leaves in the Wyethia mollis and Ceanothus prostratus photo caption as skunk plants (not sure which is which there). We had a cabin at Lake Alpine up on Ebbett’s Pass, and spent much time there in the summers. We would often find cows grazing on the “skunk plants” when we went hiking around the cabin. If I recall correctly, the skunk plants had a strong smell.

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    1. You have set me up for a plant identification demonstration exercise!

      The Wyethia in that picture are Mule’s Ears. You may be mixing them up with Skunk Cabbage, and in the West we have two plants that might be called that. Western Skunk Cabbage Lysichiton americanus, which does smell, is in the Arum family (and my backyard weed I wrote about recently is also). Wikipedia says that most animals will not eat it, because it burns the mouth.

      Years ago I wrote about the other plant Veratrum californicum whose common name most often Corn Lily but sometimes also Skunk Cabbage: https://gretchenjoanna.com/2010/08/26/animal-vegetable-weed/ I don’t believe it smells, but it is toxic to livestock. That is likely the plant that you used to see, and which I have often seen in the Sierras.

      Why do I also tend to confuse Skunk Cabbage with Mule’s Ears? I think because they both are two-word names, containing animals’ names, and their leaves are similarly shaped and upright. And of course, they both grow in the Sierras. I guess they both like moist soil but the true Skunk Cabbage seems to like a swamp. Wyethia has daisy-like flowers.

      I know, that is TMI, too much information. The gist of it is, Wyethia is not Skunk Cabbage. ❤

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