This yellow-flowered plant grows everywhere on the east side of the Sierras, like a weed. But how can any weed be this beautiful? The pale yellow blossom is as big as my palm, with long delicate petals, and a spreading bouquet of yellow stamens rises from the center. Five skinny “petals” that alternate with the wider ones are actually modified stamens that don’t produce any pollen. This extravagant bloom is surrounded by long green sepals that peek out from between the petals. With a pale stem and scalloped green leaves, the entire package looks like a carefully wrought floral display. Yet nature did all of the arranging.
Giant blazing star (Mentzelia laevicaulis) can be found across much of California and across all of western North America. Despite its delicate looks, this beauty loves high heat and rocky habitats. It was also used by many native tribes for everything from skin wash to gravy. Roots were used to treat arthritis, earaches, bruises and fever. An infusion made from the leaves was used for stomachaches and skin disease. The gravy was made from fried seeds and water.
Flamboyant white flowers are scattered across a sagebrush plain. Prickly poppy, or Argemone munita, has the large papery-thin petals–stark white around a brilliant yellow center. Insects flock and feed among the many yellow stamens. The whole plant has abundant gray-green leaves that are prickly to the touch, and stands as tall as my knee. It is truly a beauty! But you won’t see it in the Bay Area; it grows across the west but only between 4,000 and 8,500 feet. If you see a similar flower at low elevation, you’re probably looking at one of this bloom’s lovely cousins, such as the Matilja poppy.