Fetid Adder’s Tongue

A Fetid Adder's Tongue blooms early in the coast redwood forest.
A Fetid Adder’s Tongue blooms early in the coast redwood forest.

Punxsutawney Phil predicts spring will come early this year. As much fun as it is to trust the behavior of a charismatic groundhog, I also love searching for my own signs of spring a little closer to home.

Wildflowers are one of the earliest sentinels of spring I look for along every trail I walk this time of year. Bright orange, red, yellow, and purple flowers abound in sunny meadows as spring arrives, but in the coast redwood forest the flowers can be quite hidden from sight.

Fetid Adder’s Tongue is one of these cryptic beauties and blooms early in the shady redwood understory. This lily’s broad green leaves are mottled with dark spots that look like oil stains that drape on the forest floor. Its flower is white with dark purple or brown stripes that camouflage the bloom and make it difficult to spot from a distance. The name Fetid Adder’s Tongue comes from the putrid odor of the flower, likely produced by the plant to attract pollinating flies or gnats.  After pollination, the bloom fades and this transient sign of spring disappears.

Have you seen or smelled Fetid Adder’s Tongue in the woods yet this year? Tell me where you find them!

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