Plants of the Sierra- The Snow Plant


One of many native Sierra Nevada plants of interest is the Snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) The vibrant red color is stunning, the conical shape is unique, and it is a forerunner of spring flowers that will soon follow. The  Snow Plant intrigues plant lovers because it lacks chlorophyll. Its roots are encased in fungi which absorb nutrients for the snow plant from decaying plant material in the soil (making it a saprophyte) and from surrounding trees (making it an indirect parasite).

The Snow plant is difficult to confuse with other plants, and indeed stands a better chance of being confused with a misplaced piece of meat. It will be found growing out of pine needles and other forest litter on the surface of the ground, near a conifer. The above ground portion begins to grow in late spring, as the snow melts, and presents a dramatic contrast with the snow .

Photos courtesy Linda Clague of Rock Haven, Shaver Lake and Kathleen G. Nelson, Inyo National Forest Botanist.


  1. The common name of this plant is considerably less grotesque than its scientific name, given it by John Torrey, a famous New York botanist of the h Century. It translates roughly to “the bloody flesh-like thing,” an allusion to the bright red color of the plant – the entire plant, not just the flowers. It belongs to the Monotropaceae, or Indian-pipe family, a family closely related to the Ericaceae, or heath family: snow plant is the unlikely relation of such shrubs as manzanita, madrono, laurel, and azalea.

  2. Thank you for this post. We came across some of these beautiful plants while hiking in Zephyr Cove, NV and had no idea what they were.

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