CA – Lassen Volcanic National Park, Flowers, Ice and So Much More (May 2021)

As the snow recedes in the high country, Snow Plants (Sarcodes sanguinea) welcome spring. When I caught wind they’d arrived, I made it a priority to go see them the next day. These are the most pristine specimens I’ve ever seen.

Snow plant has no chlorophyll; it derives nutrition from fungi underneath the soil, and for this reason the plant is called “mycotrophic”. These fungi are the mycorrhizae (“fungus-roots”) of conifers, an interesting topic by itself. Many conifers (among other plants) require these fungi to live normally. Mycorrhizae are composed of strands of cells (mycelia) that grow about in the soil; these strands are quite numerous and extensive, and the conifer uses them to bring water and minerals to itself. In return, the conifer provides the fungus with some of the products of its photosynthesis. Snow plant takes advantage of this felicitous arrangement by parasitizing the mycorrhizae of the photosynthate provided it by the conifer, which makes sense, given that it is a plant without chlorophyll, and therefore a plant that cannot photosynthesize. In this indirect way, Sarcodes is a parasite of conifers; this is why they are always seen beneath (or very close to) them.

https://www.fs.fed.us/…/plant…/sarcodes_sanguinea.shtml

The snow plant emerges like a bright red nose.

Soon they look like a red pinecone.

As the plants matures, flowers the candle-like leaves open revealing a flower. Eventually fruit will fill the flower. “The fruit is a capsule containing sticky seeds. Once ripened, seed is released through an opening at the base of the style.”

Seeing the aquamarine ice of the melting lakes had been on my must-see list. While the lakes are conveniently located next to the road, winter closure keeps them inaccessible until the road is plowed unless you want to walk or ride about 5 miles from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center. This is Helen Lake with Brokeoff Mountain, Mount Diller and Pilot Pinnacle in the background.

What causes the color? I’m guessing it has to do with (1) the minerals in the water and/or (2) glacial silt. There are no longer active glaciers at Lassen but maybe there is enough silt remaining? I wonder how long it’ll take the lakes to melt? This is a closer view from Emerald Lake.

Most trails are still buried under the snow and with limited mobility I was limited to wandering around mostly snow-free lakes although Summit Lake still had a bit more than I should have navigated. This is a view of Lassen Peak from the shores of Summit Lake where there is a one-mile perimeter trail.

One of the views of Lassen Peak from the 2-mile trail around Manzanita Lake.

Reflection Lake offers this reflection of Chaos Crags and Lassen Peak as one wanders the one-mile loop.

This view of Chaos Crags was captured from the road. It was shocking to see it nearly barren of snow in early May. But then again it’s been an extremely low snow year and I read this is the earliest the 30-mile road through the park has opened in 40 years. “The road clearing process in 2019 wasn’t finished until June 22, and it went all they way to July 26th in 2017.”

Lassen Peak should be buried but instead it’s ready to be hiked, and in fact on this day the road opened there were at least a dozen vehicles in the parking lot.

I returned ten days later and found a few more blooms including these Marsh Marigolds.

These were tiny Fawn Lilies.

Not to be outdone in the tiny flower department, these were miniature violets.

There are lots of plants hiding their identification including this one, although a botany friend guessed Pedicularis attollens aka baby elephant heads, another favorite.

Lily pond was filled with yellow buds. I’m looking forward to a colorful mat on my next visit.

I anticipate this meadow showcasing Pilot Pinnacle will be filled with Corn Lilies.

Meanwhile Helen Lake was still in the melting stage.

Another round of snow plants were emerging from their winter nests. My goal is to find mature plants sporting seed-filled fruits in the flower.

Just outside the Park on the southern end is Child’s Meadows and I was hopeful to find mass distribution of camas. It appears I should have stopped during my previous visit.

I never regret stopping to enjoy this view of Brokeoff Mountain from Child’s Meadows.

What will June bring? I plan to return to Lassen regularly to enjoy the transition from spring to summer. It’s a great place to continue to work on my knee rehab as many of the trails are gentle. Until then . . . .

8 thoughts on “CA – Lassen Volcanic National Park, Flowers, Ice and So Much More (May 2021)

    • Most exciting is I got to treat the one on a 5-mile hike on a flat easy section of the PCT followed a few days later by a 700+ feet hike over a little less than 5 miles. I’m finally feeling optimism and excitement.

    • A friend posted photos of the blue ice on Ridge Lakes a few years ago and ever since I’ve wanted to see. I saw a post from a few days ago showing the ice gone on Helen Lake. Summer’s coming whether we like it or not.

  1. How beautiful! Good to see that you taking your rehab slowly. Going slowly has its advantages too – more time to enjoy the mountains and flowers.

    • It’s a slow slow process. I’m now saying since I had 3 procedures it’ll take 3x as long as someone who only had one. I’m also focusing on what I CAN do rather than what I can’t.

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