In May 2006, while wandering about on the slopes above Lake Quinault in western Washington State, I came upon a remarkable group of beautiful pink-flowered erythroniums. The weather was perfectly splendid — for erythronium, that is — but for me, as I slipped and slid about on a confusion of tumbled wet rocks, while peering about me through a dense, drenching rain, the conditions were dismal beyond words to express. I was desperately wishing I could be somewhere else, preferably sitting before a blazing fire with something warm to drink, when suddenly everything changed, the gentle rain was a delight, and I was standing in a springtime wonderland.
The scene before me would have gladdened the heart of anyone with a soul. Before me, everywhere among the glistening stones, were dozens of erythronium in full bloom, their clear green leaves and deep pink flowers all bejeweled by raindrops and begging to be photographed, as if they knew that in my camera bag there was not only a camera but also a flash that would compensate for the lack of natural light. Life was good!
While feeling how fortunate I was to be in that magical spot, I felt a little pang of regret that there was not enough light for a photograph of the entire scene with so many lovely pink blooms. At this moment, as I write these lines, I very much wish I could show you that wondrous grouping of pink blooms, for it is likely you’ll ever see anything quite like it. If you get to western North America and come upon an extra nice patch of Erythronium revolutum, you’ll be seeing a very similar scene, but it will lack the extraordinary magic of what I was seeing, because these plants were not E. revolutum, though from a distance they looked almost exactly like that lovely species. I was seeing something entirely new for me, and something I did not know existed.
My mind told me they were not E. revolutum because the leave were not mottled and, looking closely, I could see the stamen filaments were slender, not wide at the base like those of revolutum. These unusual plants must be Erythronium quinaultense, named for the lake a few miles away down the slope, but I thought I knew quinaultense, as I had a nice patch of them in my garden, grown from seed sent to me by Dr. Geraldine Allen at about the time she named the species.
These plants had flowers very unlike those of the plants in my garden. These flowers were a rich pink, like those of the best E. revolutum, while the plants from Dr. Allen’s seeds had flowers that were essentially white with only a touch of pink on the backs of the tepals. Not only were these plants very unlike the plants in my garden at that time, but in the years since then, I have looked at numerous photos of Erythronium quinaultense taken by other people, and none have shown flowers with the rich pink I was seeing that wonderful day in the miserable weather on the slopes to the north of Lake Quinault.