Text by Mary Stevens

Scoliopus bigelovii IMG 0911sm








Scoliopus bigelovii – California fetid adders tongue
(Photo by Vernon Smith)


BLOOM PERIOD: January – February As in other members of the lily family, the flower parts of this early blooming wildflower appear in groups of three. The most “conspicuous” parts of these cryptic little flowers are the sepals with their finely etched lines of deep maroon. The actual petals are smaller, threadlike, and upcurving, surrounding the three-part stigma. Also look for the three short stamens with anthers that turn from green to purple to golden as they mature and release their pollen.The name Scoliopus means crooked foot, from the curving pedicel or stalk of the flower. When the plant first appears in the spring, the flower stalks stand up straight, holding the flower above the two leaves which are still quite small. After the flower has been pollinated, the fruit or seed pod begins to swell and the flower parts fall off. The weight of the growing pod causes the slender stalk to bend over and touch the ground, thus the common name “slink pod”.
Notice that the distance between plants is about the length of the pedicels. This is no coincidence. Instead of broadcasting their seeds as most flowering plants do, the seed pod goes into the ground while still attached to the “mother plant”. The species name bigelovii honors John Milton Bigelow, a surgeon and botanist from Ohio.By the time the flowers have disappeared, the mottled leaves have grown quite large and will be conspicuous for months. These give rise to the name “adder’s tongue”. The “fetid” part of the name coming from the odor of the fresh flower. Fortunately, this is no more conspicuous than the flower itself and you will probably only notice it as you kneel on all fours to get a closer look at the flower. The odor is thought to attract pollinators.

 Mary Elizabeth Parsons in The Wild Flowers of California, 1897:
“When the flowers first open they stand erect, held in the shining chalice formed by the two sheathing green leaves. Later the leaves open out, showing their beautiful blotched surfaces, and the three-angled flower-stems become limp and twisted.”John Thomas Howell in Marin Flora, 1949:
“One of the first plants to bloom after the beginning of the rainy season, the Fetid Adder’s Tongue thrusts its queer ill-scented flowers from the pair of closely rolled leaves as soon as they are above ground. By the time the attractive brown-spotted leaves are developed, the first fruits are already well formed at the ends of elongate sprawling twisting pedicels. This remarkable plant was discovered by Bigelow at “Tamul Pass” in 1854.” Where to see Scoliopus bigelovii in Marin CountyJohn Thomas Howell in Marin Flora lists Sausalito, Muir Woods, Mount Tamalpais (Blithedale canyon, Cataract Gulch, Fish Grade), Bolinas Ridge, San Geronimo Ridge, and San Rafael Hills for Marin County locations. A beautiful place to see Scoliopus bigelovii here in Marin County is Muir Woods National Monument. Cascade Falls in Mill Valley is an easy place to see Scoliopus bigelovii. From downtown Mill Valley, take Throckmorton past the public library all the way to the end where it intersects Cascade. Turn right onto Cascade and watch for a small parking lot on the right with a wooden sign reading CASCADE FALLS. Distribution:Scoliopus bigelovii grows in the moist shade of redwood forests in the San Francisco Bay Area and the outer North Coast Ranges. While they are found growing with Sequoia sempervirens, their range is more limited both to the south and to the north. The range of Scoliopus bigelovii extends to Santa Cruz County to the south and to Humboldt County in the north.In the Flora of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, John Hunter Thomas lists its locations as Pilarcitos Lake, La Honda, Kings Mountain, Woodside Hills, Los Gatos, Waddell Creek, and near Santa Cruz.
You can view a distribution map like this for any plant included in The Jepson Manual by going to the Calflora web site. The only other species of Scoliopus is the Oregon Fetid Adder’s Tongue, Scoliopus hallii, a somewhat smaller but very similar plant native to the west slope of the Cascade Mountains and the Coast Mountains in Oregon.More Scoliopus bigelovii photographs on the internet: CalPhotos has many images of Scoliopus bigelovii