By Katie O’Hara Kelly
Back in the Lakes Basin
The snow has been melting up in the Lakes Basin, so we’ve started hiking up there again! It is so nice to be back in our favorite, local, “wilderness”! Around 6,000′ most of the snow is gone, but there are still lots of big patches of snow at higher elevations. Spring is JUST starting up there, and wildflowers are springing up! Songbirds have returned, and the air is filled with their songs, calls, chirps, and warbles! It’s wonderful!
One of the hikes we went on was to Hidden Lake, via a cross-country route. We hiked up a snow-free, south-facing boulder field to get to it. We like to go there to see these uncommon flowers, Drummond’s Anemones, that bloom in the early Spring. Our route was snow-free until we got to the forest near Hidden Lake, where there was still 6″ or more of snow on the ground! Needless to say, the Drummond’s Anemones weren’t even tiny plants yet. The area where they usually grow, was still snowy and flooded from snowmelt! It was still a great hike with fabulous views to the south of Long Lake and the Sierra Buttes! We’ll have to go back again in a few weeks to see if the anemones have blossomed!
The bright-red Snow Plants are just starting to emerge in the Lakes Basin. These unusual flowers have no chlorophyll, and are parasitic on False Truffles (Rhizopogon ellenae). The truffles themselves have a symbiotic relationship with tree roots. The tree roots supply fixed carbon to the truffles, and in return the truffles provide mineral nutrients, water, and protection from pathogens to the tree! The snow plant takes advantage of this symbiotic relationship, and taps into the fungal/root network and steals sugars! They can grow to be about a foot or more in height, and an inch or two in stem width!
This flower is one of the most aptly named flowers I’ve ever come across! It indeed looks like a Steer’s Head skull, except that it’s a miniature one! These flowers are one of the first to bloom as the snow recedes, but they are so little (about half the size of your pinky fingernail) they are super hard to find. During the course of one whole day we only saw three of them! They do tend to grow near each other. So if you see one, carefully look for more in the immediate vicinity. Good luck! They’re delightful!