Mary Sue Ittner msittner@mcn.org
Sun, 25 May 2003 22:56:04 PDT
Dear All,

This week's topic of the week is Dichelostemma.

Dichelostemma is a genus with five species including one with two 
subspecies distributed throughout the western United States, but 
concentrated in northern California. Once considered a taxonomic section of 
the genus Brodiaea, it is now considered a distinct genus. Dichelostemma is 
a perennial from a corm. Leaves are basal, generally keeled, often withered 
by flowering. Flowers have six tepals that are united at the base in a tube 
and are formed in an umbel or umbel-like raceme. Dichelostemma is 
differentiated from Brodiaea by a flowering stem that is generally curved 
or twisted (not straight), an umbel that is typically dense and not open, 
and filaments that are crown-like, forming a tube outside the anthers. 
Dichelostemma is differentiated from Triteleia by having a dense umbel 
rather than an open one and having 3 stamens instead of 6 and filaments 
that are crown-like, forming a tube outside the anthers. There is one 
exception (Dichelostemma capitatum) which has 6 stamens, but it has the 
crown-like appendages not found in Triteleia. This genus has been 
considered to be a part of many different families including Alliaceae. In 
The Jepson Manual (1993) it was classified in Liliaceae. Recent work is now 
placing it in a new family, Themidaceae, which includes other California 
genera (Androstephium, Bloomeria, Brodiaea, Muilla, and Triteleia.)

Below is information about each of the species.

Dichelostemma capitatum (ex. D. pulchellum)--Commonly known as blue dicks, 
this plant is widespread in California, spilling into Oregon and Baja 
California from the coast to the foothills and even to the deserts. The 
Jepson Manual also lists it for Utah and New Mexico. The few leaves are up 
to one foot (.3 meter) and sometimes more in length, often close to the 
ground. The one to two foot (.3-.6 meter) flower stems appear from March to 
May, carrying umbrella-like flower clusters. The bell shaped flowers are ½ 
to one inch (1 to 2.5 cm.) long, usually lavender to violet, occasionally 
white or purplish pink, and unlike the other species in this genus have 6 
stamens. Unlike Triteleia, which also has 6 stamens, it has forked 
appendages outside the anthers. The subspecies, Dichelostemma capitatum 
ssp. pauciflorum (few-flowered blue dicks), occurs in Southern California 
in and around the desert and is distinguished by fewer flowers, longer 
pedicels (flower stalks), and lobes that are more spreading than ascending 
than the more widespread subspecies Dichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatum.

Dichelostemma congestum--Commonly know as ookow or congested snake lily 
this plant is found in meadows and open woods from the San Francisco Bay 
area north in California into Canada and less commonly in the Northern 
Sierra foothills and the Northern high Sierra. Leaves are often long and 
floppy and the flowering stalks are 1-3 ft. (.3-.9 meters) high, blooming 
from April to June carrying dense, many-flowered clusters.  The individual 
flowers are from ½ to one inch long (1 to 2.5 cm.) and bluish purple in 
color. The flowering tube is pinched slightly at the top and the filament 
crown is forked as in Dichelostemma capitatum.

Dichelostemma ida-maia--Commonly know as firecracker flower, this species 
is found at the edges of woods from Mendocino County north to Oregon. It is 
a plant of the Coastal ranges. It has leaves from one foot to nearly two 
feet (.3-.6 meters) and stems up to three feet high (.9 meters). The 
flowers, appearing from May to July, are in open umbels of several pendant, 
long tubular flowers with a crimson red tube and short green reflexed tips. 
The three fertile stamens protrude and are light yellow, backed by three 
rounded crown segments. It is the only species in the genus that is 
pollinated by birds.

Dichelostemma multiflorum--Commonly knows as wild hyacinth, this plant is 
found in the central and northern Sierra foothills, but also is found in 
the North Coast ranges and other areas of California and southern Oregon. 
Its leaves are from 1-2½ feet (.3 to .76 meters) and are not keeled, unlike 
most of the species in this genus. The flowering stems are about the same 
length as the leaves. It flowers in May and June in many flowered ball-like 
umbels of lavender-pink to violet. The filament crown is broad and round 
and inrolled, white or pale purple, and the tube is very constricted at the 

Dichelostemma volubile--Commonly known as twining brodiaea or twining snake 
lily, this plant is found on rocky slopes and flats, usually in chaparral, 
in the Sierra foothills and down the inner Coast ranges. If you look at a 
distribution map there is a strip running down the center of the state. The 
plant has a few sinuous leaves two feet (.6 meters) or more in length, 
often lying on the ground, and a flower stem which twines around the 
branches of neighboring shrubs to a height from two up to eight feet (.6 to 
2.4 meters). The flowering stem terminates in a tight cluster of numerous, 
small pinkish flowers. The flowers are a little over a ½ inch long (1.2 
cm.), with short fat tubes and spreading free segments. Like Brodiaea this 
species has three sterile stamens alternating with three fertile stamens 
with forked appendages. It blooms from April to May.

I have added pictures of all the species to the Wiki:

I have at last mastered how to tell them apart. I have seen quite a few of 
them when hiking and used to be unsure which was which. D. ida-maia of 
course is easy since it is red and green and doesn't look like any of the 
others. D. volubile is pinkish and has very long twinning stems.

So that leaves the other three which are similar in color and casually look 
alike. Dichelostemma capitatum has 6 stamens, when the other two have three 
but you have to pull it apart to see that. Easier is to look at the tube. 
The other two have tubes that are constricted at the throat. I had Bob take 
pictures of the tubes of all three so you can see what I mean. So that 
leaves D. congestum and D. multiflorum. D. multiflorum is more constricted 
at the throat but I think it is a bit subtle. D. multiflorum is supposed to 
be an umbel and D. congestum a raceme, and I have looked at them long but 
still think they look alike. Much easier is to look at what Glen Keator 
calls the filament crown, a tube that surrounds the stamens. D. congestum's 
crown is forked. D. multiflorum's is broad, round, and inrolled. Bob's 
pictures capture that. This is why you sometimes see the common names for 
these two listed as Forktooth Ookow and Roundtooth Ookow. I haven't a clue 
how to pronounce Ookow or what it means although I am sure it is a Native 
American word. Maybe someone else knows.

Since this is getting too long, I'll talk about cultivation tomorrow. I 
hope everyone who grows this genus will speak up so we can identify where 
it can be grown.

I have added more pictures to the Triteleia Wiki page so if you want to 
look at how they are different you can access that page from the 
Dichelostemma page since I have linked them. I hope by the end of our 
Brodiaea topic everyone who is interested will be able to tell the 
difference between Brodiaea, Dichelostemma, and Triteleia. I suppose DNA 
could turn this all upside down.

Mary Sue

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