Scoliopus bigelovii – Fetid Adder’s Tongue

Fetid Adder's Tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii)
Scoliopus bigelovii

Yesterday, we traveled from Sacramento to Mill Valley to visit the Muir Woods National Monument. While the old growth coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are certainly majestic, the plant we were most interested in visiting is much smaller. Specifically, we were intent on finding and photographing “Fetid Adder’s Tongue” (Scoliopus bigelovii).

Fetid Adder's Tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii)
S. bigelovii growing beneath the coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) canopy. Check out those beautiful mottled leaves!

What a wonderful common name this gorgeous little lily has! I can’t think of many weirder, grosser, or just plain nastier common names for plants. Despite its name, the flowers on this plant are bizarre, delicate, and beautiful, with stunning purple-brown stripes on the petals. The leaves have beautiful deep-jade mottles. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t identify any foul smells from the flower, even though the Jepson Herbarium states that they’re “ill-scented when fresh.”

Fetid Adder's Tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii)
S. bigelovii flower detail.

There’s another member of the Scoliopus genus, S. hallii, found in Oregon that is named, appropriately-enough, the Oregon fetid adder’s tongue. The flowers seem to be smaller, and they’re much yellower. It’d be fun to visit them to compare them in person some day.

Illustration from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, v. 123 (1897-1920).

It was amazing how many people walked by me on the main Muir Woods trail without being in the least bit curious about this wonderful little flower. The rangers were cool — they enjoyed chatting about some of the early-season flowers in the park and were mildly amused that we’d driven to see a small flower instead of the huge trees. My wife commented that she’s becoming “a nature snob,” who likes smaller, subtler trails and adventures instead of super-crowded places like Muir Woods. Maybe we’d have better luck visiting on a weekday, and it’ll certainly be nice when our girls are a little older and we can tackle the more challenging hikes again.

Scoliopus bigelovii – Fetid Adder’s Tongue

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