By Tim Hauserman
They are a blaze of Christmas like red and green which brighten up the forest newly emerging from the snow. Shockingly red snow flowers looking like monster asparagus popping out of the pine needles. Bright green corn lilies, breaking through the dirt like cigar rolls before quickly transforming into corn stalks.
Unlike the green plants that dominate Tahoe forests, snowflowers or snowplants, have no chlorophyll. Conifer trees need mycorrhizae fungus to bring water and minerals into their root systems. Snowplants find the mycorrhizae to be tasty stuff. Thus you find snow flowers underneath the pine and fir trees in our forests. In fact, where the snowflowers pop up gives a good indication of how far out the roots grow from a tree.
The splashing of red color begins to grow above the ground in late spring, just after the snow melts. They can grow up to a foot tall and often appear in tightly bunched sets. While not especially rare, they do stand out as an amazing highlight in the dark woods.
These common plants can grow up to 6 feet tall, forming a heavily leafed stock that resembles a cornstalk. They can grow in dense stands in wet areas, with bright white flowers. In the spring it is fun to watch how they quickly emerge out of the soil like a ear of corn, and then grow very quickly. By looking at the growth pattern of a group of corn lilies you can get a good idea where the snow melted first.
Take a walk in the forest now to catch the snowflowers while they are still at their peak of moistness, and the corn lilies, which remind us that life happens quick in the mountains, so you better work fast to get to flowering.