Triteleia--PBS Tow

Mary Sue Ittner
Sun, 05 Jan 2003 12:51:07 PST
Dear All,

I would like to introduce a genus dear to my heart and one I have been growing a number of years, Triteleia.

A couple of years ago I decided to try to make some sense out of the Brodiaea complex I was growing. I struggled to key them out from my huge collection of books and finally wrote out my own keys using the information I could find from my books, web sites like CalFlora, looking at my own plants, etc. This introduction will include some of what I came up with about Triteleia. The ABA has already published it in one of their journals. I always considered it a work in progress so comments from Georgie Robinett and Diana Chapman who have seen many of these in the wild may help me improve my understanding and make corrections. In addition in Bulbs of North American there is an excellent article on the subject written by Parker Sanderson and Jane McGary. So we have some real experts in this group to aide in answering questions that come up.


The name Triteleia comes from the Greek tri for three and teleios for complete. All of the parts of the flowers are found in threes. These plants have been previously classified in the Amaryillidaceae or Alliaceae families. In The Jepson Manual (1993) Triteleia was classified in Liliaceae. Recent work is now placing it in a new family, Themidaceae, which includes other California genera (Androstephium, Bloomeria, Dichelostemma, Muilla, and Brodiaea.)

Growing from a fibrous-coated corm, the flowers are characterized by six tepals (3 sepals and 3 petals) with the inflorescence an open brachted umbel with several to many flowers. They have one to two grass-like basal keeled leaves that are frequently withered by flowering time. Triteleia is differentiated from Bloomeria, Allium, and Muilla by having its tepals fused at the base into an obvious tube and is therefore described as funnel shaped.  Triteleia can be differentiated from Brodiaea by having dull instead of shiny or waxy tepals. It has 6 fertile stamens whereas Brodiaea usually has 3 fertile stamens and 3 staminodia (false stamens). Triteleia is differentiated from Dichelostemma by having open instead of closely crowded umbels and by having 6 fertile stamens. All but one species of Dichelostemma have 3 fertile stamens and conspicuous stamen appendages. Anthers are attached at the middle to their filaments and generally angled away from the stigma, which is 3-lobed.

There are 14 species of Triteleia found in Western North America and another species found in Mexico. California has thirteen species and seventeen taxa with many of them located in the northern and central part of the state. Individual taxa are differentiated by color, size of the flower, shape and size of the tube, whether the stamens are attached to the tube at one or two levels, color of the ovary, shape of the filaments, and whether there are forked appendages outside of the anthers. Those species having appendages are further differentiated by the appearance of the appendages, the color of the anthers, and the size of the tube. Where they are found is often helpful in determining what the species is. Taxa with evenly purple or blue flowers are Triteleia bridgesii, T. clementina, T. crocea var. modesta, T. grandiflora ssp. howellii, and T. laxa. Taxa with white flowers, sometimes flushed purple, are Triteleia hyacinthina, T. ixioides ssp. cookii, T. lilacina, and T. peduncularis. Taxa with straw-colored to bright yellow flowers are Triteleia crocea var. crocea, T. dudleyi, T. hendersonii, T. ixioides ssp. anilina, T. ixioides ssp. ixioides, T. ixioides ssp. scabra, T. lugens, and T. montana.

Triteleia is found in a variety of habitats including rocky cliffs, open conifer forests, grasslands, and vernally wet meadows. The fruit is an ovoid capsule with black, angled seeds. Time of bloom occurs from March to August depending on the taxa and habitat.

Triteleia bridgesii, commonly known as Bridge's brodiaea is found on dry rocky bluffs and open woods usually in heavy soil in the northern Coast ranges and the northern and central Sierra foothills of California and into Oregon between 0 and 3000 ft. (0-915 meters). Ranging from 4 to 20 in. (10 to 50 cm.), it has red purple starry flowers with a whitish translucent throat and petals that flare at a wider angle to the throat. Its stamens are all attached at one level with narrowly triangular filaments and blue anthers. It blooms April to June.

Triteleia clementina or San Clemente Island triteleia is a rare endemic of San Clemente Island in Southern California where it is found on damp clefts on rocky walls. It has light blue flowers on a 12 to 16 in. (30 to 40 cm.) stem, triangular filaments that are attached at two levels and purple anthers. It blooms from March to April.

Triteleia crocea, commonly known as yellow triteleia or yellow triplet-lily is found in open conifer forests, dry slopes from southwest Oregon to northwest California between 4000 to 7000 feet (1200 to 2200 meters). It is a short plant of 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30 cm.) with slender filaments attached at two levels, widely spreading lobes, and greenish brown median stripes. It blooms May to June. There are two subspecies: Triteleia crocea ssp. crocea is bright yellow and Triteleia crocea ssp. modesta has pale blue flowers with fringed tips. The latter, with a common name of Trinity Mountains pretty face is restricted to the Trinity Mountains in California and is found growing on serpentine.

Triteleia dudleyi or Dudley's triteleia is found in subalpine open pine forests between 9800 and 11500 feet  (3000 to 3500 meters) in the southern Sierra Nevada in California. It is rare, being found in Tulare County. It too is short from 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30cm.) with pale yellow flowers fading to purple. It has filaments that are attached at one level, but are alternately long and short (2 and 3.4 mm) and narrowly triangular in shape. Sometimes is has blunt appendages outside the lavender anthers. In habitat it blooms in July-Aug.

Triteleia grandiflora is found from the most northern part of California north to southern British Columbia and east into Idaho, western Montana, western Wyoming, northern Utah, and possibly Colorado. It has pale blue (almost white) to deep blue flowers in a large head with long pedicels (flowering stems) and is distinguished from all the other triteleias by a rounded or cup-like base. Leaves are often withered at flowering. What was once considered two separate species with different names are now considered subspecies of grandiflora.

Triteleia grandifora ssp. grandiflora (previously known as Brodiaea douglasii) is found in the range described above except not in California between 4700 and 8000 ft. (1420 and 2430) meters and is known as large-flower triteliea or Douglas's Triteleia. It is found in grassy areas among sagebrush or in pine forests. It is tall, growing to 28 in. (70 cm.) and has ruffled or wavy petal lobes. The stamens are attached at different levels with the filaments narrowly linear and the anthers linear. It blooms from April to July.

Triteleia grandiflora ssp. howellii (previously  known as Brodiaea douglasii  howellii or Triteleia howellii) is known as Howell's triteleia. It is found from Washington south to a small area in northern California. It is found between 0 and 2296 feet  (0 to 700 meters) in open, moist or dry places west of the Cascade Range. It is much shorter without the ruffled petals with deep violet flowers and has filaments that are attached at the same level and are broader at the top than the base. It blooms from April to May.

Triteleia guadalupensis is a rare plant found on Guadalupe Island of Mexico. It is described as bright yellow with dark veins.

Triteleia hendersonii or Henderson's stars is found in dry foothill woodland on canyon slopes and rocky hillsides or near serpentine from southwest Oregon and the Klamath River area of Northern California to Oregon. It is extremely rare and although there have been reported observations in California, it was left out of The Jepson Manual. It has widely spreading pale yellow petals with dark purple stripes united in a short tube. The stamen filaments are linear, attached at the same level and of equal lengths. The anthers are blue. It blooms from May to July. There may be two varieties, Triteleia hendersonii var. hendersonii , which has yellow flowers, and Triteleia hendersonii var. leachiae, a rare plant of the Siskiyou Mountains in Oregon, which is short and has white flowers.

Triteleia hyacinthina is known as wild hyacinth or white brodiaea. It is usually found in areas that are temporarily wet in spring from northwest California and the Cascade Ranges to the Sierra Nevada, Great Central Valley and northern and central portions of central California from 0 to 7200 feet. Its range extends all the way to Canada and into Idaho. Flowers white or tinted blue are shallowly bowl-shaped with a very short tube and cream or yellow anthers and widely flared ascending lobes. The petal midribs are green. Its shorter pedicels and therefore tighter umbel distinguish this species. Filaments are wider at the base, anthers white to blue, and the ovary is green. There is much variation in height from 4 to 15 in. (10 to 40 cm.) and size of flowers. Some forms offset heavily and some do not. As might be expected from all this variation so is the time of bloom from March to August.

Triteleia ixioides, commonly know as Golden brodiaea or pretty face, was previous known as Brodiaea lutea. It is found between 0 and 10000 feet (0 to 3000 meters) in dry conditions in various plant communities from forest margins to scrub in gravely or sandy soils. It has a shallow tube that is much less than the lobes and petals pale straw to yellow in color with gray-green stripes on the front and brown to purple stripes on the back. The distinctive feature of this species is the crown-like ring of forked appendages behind the stamens. The anthers are generally yellow. It blooms May to August. There are four taxa contained within this species:

Triteleia ixioides ssp. anilina or mountain pretty face is found between 1968 and 9842 feet (600 to 3000 meters) in coniferous forest margins and mountain meadows, often in sand or gravel, from the northern Klamath Range to the Sierra Nevada (Oregon to California.) The small dark yellow boldly veined in purple (or brown) flowers dry bluish. The lobes are widely spreading. It has blue anthers and shorter appendages that curve toward the anthers.
Triteliea ixioides ssp. cookii or Cook's triteleia is a rare plant that occurs in serpentine in seep habitats in the Santa Lucia Range of California. It is white to pale yellow, purple-tinged without and with strongly reflexed lobes and appendages that curl away from the anthers.
Triteleia ixioides ssp. ixioides known as coast pretty face or Golden brodiaea is found between 0 and 984 feet (below 300 meters) in the coastal hills from San Francisco south to San Luis Obispo (California). It has bright yellow flowers with ascending to spreading lobes and the longest tube of any of the subspecies.
Triteleia ixioides ssp. scabra or foothill pretty face is found between 492 and 7217 feet (150-2200 meters) in the grasslands and woodlands of the Sierra Nevada foothills of California in heavy to granitic soils. It usually has flat wheels of straw to creamy yellow flowers with broad petal segments, but flowers are occasionally brighter yellow. The appendages curve outward and the anthers are cream to yellow. It blooms earlier than some of the other species (from March to May) and is usually the tallest subspecies (to 32 in. or 80 cm.)

Triteleia laxa commonly known as wally basket or Ithuriel's spear is found between 0 and 4600 feet  (0 to 1500 meters) in a variety of habitats such as mixed evergreen forests, grassland, foothill woodland, and chaparral throughout much of California and into Oregon. It is found on slopes, but also on flats that are sometimes very wet in spring, often in heavy soils.  The funnel-shaped flowers vary considerably in color (from blue, to violet and purple, occasionally white) and size in different habitats. Linear filaments are attached at different levels. Anthers are white to blue. The ovary and style are hidden from view. Some forms offset heavily and others do not, but just produce bigger corms and more flowers over time. It blooms April to July.

Triteleia lemmonae is a species that is endemic to Arizona where it grows in sparse pine woodland at elevations between 5000 and 7000 feet (1524-2134 meters). It has bright yellow flowers fading purplish with arrowhead-shaped anthers.

Triteleia lilacina or glassy hyacinth is found on the volcanic tablelands in the northern and central Sierra foothills of California between 229 and 492 feet (70 -150 meters). It was previously known as Brodiaea hyacinthina var. greenei. It has small flowers with an inner surface of glassy shine from tiny glass like beads (evident only in fresh material.) It has folded petal edges, which make its tips appear pointed, purple anthers, and a yellow green ovary. The filaments are linear. It blooms April to May.

Triteleia lugens, commonly known as Coast Range triteleia is found in dry, sunny to partially shaded, clayey, forested or brushy places between 328 and 3280 feet (100- 1000 meters). Although rare, it is found in scattered locations in California. Flowers have a funnel shaped tube and are deep to pale yellow, striped dark. The filaments are unequal (1-2 or 2-3 mm.), broadly triangular shaped, and are all attached at the same level. The anthers are yellow or blue.

Triteleia montana or mountain triteleia or Sierra triteleia was formerly known as Brodiaea gracilis. It is found on gravelly soil on granitic substrate in ridge habitats in open montane forests between 4000 and 9800 feet (1200-3000 meters) in northern to central Sierra Nevada (California). It has a narrow funnel shaped tube with slightly spreading yellow flowers, striped brown on the outside with the flowers becoming white to purplish with age. The 5-6 mm. filaments are thread-like and all attached at one level and are more or less equal. The anthers are cream to blue. It blooms June to July in habitat.

Triteleia peduncularis, (formerly known as Brodiaea eastwoodii) and commonly known as marsh triteleia or long-rayed brodiaea occurs along the coast of Northern and Central California from Humboldt to Monterey counties. It is usually found in vernally wet habitats such as swales, marshes, and temporary streams, often associated with serpentine at elevations between 0 to 2624 feet (0-800 meters). It grows to 3 feet tall (80 cm.). The bowl-shaped flowers are white, often flushed purplish on the outside or with indigo stripes on the back or occasionally pale rose-purple. The umbel is one of the most widely spaced with each flower held on a long wiry pedicel. The flower has a bright yellow ovary, unequal filaments attached at two levels and white anthers. The leaves have often dried by blooming. It blooms from May to July.

I hope all of you who are growing these will tell us which ones you grow and what experiences you have had with them. I will share my experience later in the week as this e-mail is already too long.

Mary Sue

More information about the pbs mailing list