Nature Notes: A Fascinating Look at the Snow Plant of Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is full of nature’s marvels. From world-famous rock formations to scary wildlife standoffs, the park is one of the premier destinations in the United States for people to see the wilderness up close and personal. Even the plants are fascinating and beautiful and there’s one that’s a favorite among the park’s rangers.

The snow plant, Sarcodes Sanguinea, is a distinctive red plant that grows on the forest floor in late May and June, and can often be seen along park roads. The plant lacks the color green and sometimes grows through patches of snow. Snow plants are found throughout California, northern Baja Mexico and Southern Oregon.

Snow plants thrive between 4,000 and 8,000 feet in elevation. Lacking chlorophyll, snow plants nourish themselves by parasitizing on a fungus found in forest floor soils. This fungus has a mutually beneficial relationship with nearby pine and fir trees, helping the trees get water and nutrients in exchange for sugars from the tree. The snow plant has tapped into this energy source, obtaining nutrients and sugars from the fungus. Several other plant species in the park, pinedrops and some orchids, have developed a similar parasitic lifestyle. Many animals and insects feed on the pollen and nectar of the snow plant, including hummingbirds and bees.

“Anyone who comes to the Sierra Nevada this time of the year is going to be captivated by this plant,” stated Yosemite Park Ranger Erik Westerlund, who is featured in the video below.

The most common places in Yosemite to see Snow Plants is in Yosemite Valley, the Mariposa Grove, Glacier Point, along the Wawona Road and Tioga Road, and near the Porcupine Creek Trailhead.

Watch this video to see the Snow Plant in action:

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