There are a bunch of beautiful flowers in bloom right now, with clusters of white or purple blossoms atop long leafless stems. These are the brodiaeas, blue dicks and wally baskets, and even though they are quite distinct it can be oddly difficult to remember which is which. So I’m going to give an overview of their similarities and differences here, and then focus on some specific species in these groups throughout the week.
This group of cousins all belong to the Liliaceae family, which you can tell because their petals and stamens come in multiples of three.
Because they are all so similar, botanists once thought they were all in the same genus as well, but now genetic and other work has determined they are actually different genera (but if you have an old guidebook, you’ll find them all under Brodiaea). All three have flowers that appear in a umbel at the top of the (usually long) leafless stalk. The flower petals are united at the base, and are always purple or white.
But their differences are not hard to see. You can easily tell a wally basket (Triteleia, shown at top and below) because it has six stamens that alternate in heights so three are distinctly taller than the others. The stamens are fairly typical looking, with a stalk (“filament”) topped by a pollen-dusted anther.
Both blue dicks (Dichelostemma) and brodiaeas (you guessed it: Brodiaea) have three stamens, and they are less typical looking – flat and tongue-like, arranged equally so they face each other like the three sides of a triangle; see the photo at the bottom of the page for a close-up.
Within this group, you can tell the two apart because blue dicks have short flower stalks (“pedicels”), so the head of flowers appears dense and crowded together. Also their stalk is twisted, whereas the brodiaea stalk is straight. Brodieas also have longer pedicels, so the head of flowers looks more like a loose bouquet (though this example only has two flowers, you can still see how the two pedicels between the flowers and the stem is quite long).
Et voila! Enjoy your botanizing!