Melanthiaceae2017-06-24T15:57:03+00:00

Melanthiaceae: False-hellebore Family

The plants in this family used to form part of a broader Lily family (Liliaceae).  They vary significantly in their appearance, from the conventional, star-like flowers of the Star Lilies / Death Camas (Toxicoscordion), through the rather unconventional flowers of the Trilliums / Wakerobins (Trillium), to the tall flower spike from a dense base of grass-like leaves of Bear Grass (Xerophyllum) and the distinctive Corn-lily (Veratrum) found mainly in the Sierras and the mountains to the north of the Central Valley and not found in Monterey County.

Fremont’s Star Lily – Toxicoscordion fremontii

Blooms:

Feb–July

Plant Height:

40–90 cm

Flower Size:

Large clusters

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Grassy or wooded slopes

Notes:

This is fairly common in early spring with large panicles or racemes of white star-shaped flowers, each with 6 petal-like perianth parts, 3 narrow and long-clawed alternating with 3 wider and short-clawed.  All have yellow glands at their base. The stamens are shorter than the perianth parts (unlike Death Camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum)).  Sometimes known as Fremont’s Death Camas since all parts of the plant are highly toxic.

Del Monte Forest and the nearby Veterans’s Park are home to the Dwarf Fremont’s Star Lily,  a smaller form (no more than 25 cm tall) with fewer flowers (generally 3–5) and flowering earlier in the year (December to January). This used to be treated as a distinct variety (var. minor) and some local botanists believe that this separate treatment should be revived.  The lower row of photos show this form which is both numerous and consistent in its appearance where it is encountered.

Death Camas – Toxicoscordion venenosum

Blooms:

May–July

Plant Height:

15–70 cm

Flower Size:

Large clusters

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Moist, grassy places

Notes:

This is less common than Fremont’s Star Lily (Toxicoscordion fremontii) with similar panicles or racemes of white star-shaped flowers, but fewer in number, a little smaller and with stamens that are equal in length to or longer than the petal-like perianth parts whereas those of Fremont’s Star Lily are less than half as long. All the perianth parts are clawed and all have yellow glands at their base. All parts of the plant are highly toxic.

Giant / Common Trillium – Trillium chloropetalum

Blooms:

Apr–May

Plant Height:

20–70 cm

Flower Size:

Large

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Shaded woodland

Notes:

A common spring woodland plant, immediately  recognizable by its three large, generally mottled leaves, whorled around the stout stem just below the single, 3-petaled flower which arises from the center of the leaves. Neither the leaves nor the flowers have stems. Petals and sepals are erect and vary from yellow to purplish in color.

Western Trillium / Wakerobin – Trillium ovatum subsp. ovatum

Blooms:

Feb–Apr

Plant Height:

15–70 cm

Flower Size:

Large

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Moist woodland near coast

Notes:

This is less common in Monterey County than Giant Trillium (Trillium chloropetalum).  It also has three leaves, a little smaller and generally not mottled and its flowers are quite, different, with a distinct pedicel and spreading petals which vary with age from pure white to deep pink or lavender-purple.  The fruit is a distinctive 6-winged dome-shaped capsule.