By Sharon Sjostrom

It was a typical spring afternoon when I saw the first blooms.  The sun was shining from blue sky in the west and snow was falling from gray clouds overhead.  After the storm that left us with more than 2 feet of snow, I saw another of these early spring friends blooming in one of the few spots where the snow had melted to the ground. We call them salt and pepper, or Lomatium orientale. I usually see a few from March through May, they come and go quickly.  Most people miss them, but they are amazing and beautiful spring wonders and definitely worth a closer look.  The ones I saw recently were only a few inches tall. The leaves are bluish-green to purple and grow at the base (basal), forming a lacy, fern-like bed surrounding the fuzzy stalk.  The head, which is usually an inch in diameter or less, looks like a miniature dirty cauliflower made up of tiny bouquets of flowers.  Each head can have several bouquets, often 10 to 12.  The head is called an umbel and the bouquets are called umbellets.  The umbellets can have up to 30 individual flowers, all less than 1/8 inch in diameter.  If you carefully turn over the head, you can see the umbels and umbellets.  The white to pink petals curl in towards the center and you can often see the stamen topped with a relatively big red part with pollen grains, the anthers, poking through.  I suppose this is the pepper in the salt-and-pepper name, and it must be the fancy red peppercorns.

I always feel fortunate to see these little spring flowers.  They don’t look very interesting from five feet up, but if I crouch down and use the magnifier on my phone, I feel like I’m entering the land of Dr. Suess and if I listen and look closely, I might just find a whole other world in those bouquets. Please watch your step – these wonders are often right on the edge of the trail.
Where: Dawson Butte Open Space.  More than 64,000 acres are protected in Douglas County through their Division of Open Space and Natural Resources.  The conservation easement on Dawson Butte is a piece of more than 27,000 acres stewarded by Douglas Land Conservancy.  I am very grateful to both of these organizations for protecting open lands in the county and for providing us a place to hike and be with nature.