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Springing into spring

February 14, 2011
A grass widow flower

The grass widow is the first wildflower to bloom on the east side of Mount Hood near The Dalles, Oregon. Mark B. Gibson photo

The grass widow (Olsinium douglasii)is one of the first native wildflowers up every spring, along with salt-and-pepper (Lomatium piperi) and Columbia desert parsley (Lomatium columbianum). I’ve seen grass widows in early January, along the Columbia River. These flowers blooming Feb. 13 are at a higher elevation, typically a couple weeks behind those on the river. Note the yellow pollen dusting the flower’s petals: It has been blooming for some time. It would be interesting to know what pollinators they depend on so early in the year when the weather is often cold and windy, discouraging to flying insects. I have noticed ants stealing nectar and on sunny days the occasional native bee. Looking closely, you can see how the buds emerge from slits in the sides of the leaves, just like garden irises, which belong to the same family. Another interesting characteristic is the variable appearance of the color of the petals: In the sun, they look more reddish purple, but when a cloud comes over and puts them in the shade, they look more bluish purple. This color can be difficult to capture in a photograph. Every now and then, you might come across a plant that has white or pale flowers. Apparently pollinators are selecting mostly the purple ones, since the white ones are uncommon.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2011 04:12

    It’s gorgeous, bro! What an amazing plant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one!

  2. May 13, 2011 08:27

    My word–what a beautiful picture! I have not seen one of these before either. I like the yellow pollen tumbling down over the darker color. I have had the same problems with some flowers–their true colors can hardly be captured.

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