The snow plant, with its straight stalk, downward pointing flowers, and candy-red color, is the perfect puzzle piece to fit into the ecosystem of mixed-conifer forest in the Sierra mountains of California. As the red color hints, the snow plant lacks chlorophyl and does not convert sunlight into energy as most wildflowers do. In fact, little sunlight reaches the forest floor just a few inches off the ground as the forest giants all around reach their branches much higher into the sky.
But hidden in the earth is a nutrition-generating network of soil fungi knitting all the soil together beneath the pine needle layer. This soil fungi receives carbohydrates and amino acides from the roots of the conifers and in return gives nutrients to the sky-high trees... and to any small wildflowers, like snow plants, able to tap into this hidden source of energy.
I had already read about the snow plant in an informative Sequoia National Park newsletter so I was very much hoping to see one. I had read that they are often a welcome spring site, a dramatic red splash appearing in May within the last melting snows. As it was July during my visit, I wondered if I had missed my chance. But so luckily, I was peering outside my lodge window and I saw a glimpse of red. A sohrt stroll later, and I was photographing a snow plant, patriotically colored just a few days before the 4th of July.
John Muir, the famous naturalist instrumental in preserving the Sierra, wrote about the snow plant as it "stands beneath the pines and firs lonely and silent." When I sought and found this quote many months later, I felt the joy of my snow plant quest still continuing.
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