The snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) is so named for the fact that it appears shortly after the snow melts in the mountain environments of Oregon, California and Nevada, according to the U.S. Forestry Service. The plant is a member of the Monotropaceae family. Other members of this family include manzanitas and azaleas. The snow plant does not go through the process of photosynthesis and is distinguishable primarily for its stalk of bright red flowers.
The snow plant is usually found growing near conifers. This is a necessary condition for growth. S. sanguinea is a parasitic plant that gets its nutrients from fungi that live in the soil. The fungi grow near and on the roots of conifers, which depend on the fungi to help absorb water and nutrients from the soil. In return, the conifers give the fungi a bit of their leftovers from the process of photosynthesis. The snow plant slips its roots into the arrangement and siphons off a bit of those leftovers without killing the fungi.
Altitude and Soil
Snow plants grow at between 4,000 feet and 8,000 feet above sea level, according to the Calflora website. They are often found growing under pines in rich, fertile soil composed of thick layers of decaying needles, cones and other plant debris where fungi thrive.
Water is a "must" when growing the snow plant. These unusual flowers thrive in damp, soggy soil that is ripe for fungi growth, according to the Botanical Society of America. These plants will not grow well in areas that are exposed to prolonged hot, dry weather or drought conditions.
Although the colors of the flower are bright, ranging from vibrant red to deep rose, the blooms do not need a lot of exposure to bright sunlight to bloom. In fact, these plants are most often found tucked away in the dark shadows of fallen trees, or in deep piles of decaying organic matter. S. sanguinea thrives in shady conditions.
The flowers of S. sanguinea only grow to a maximum height of about 20 inches, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Regardless of the bright color of the flowers, the small size of the plant makes them difficult for insects to find and pollinate. In addition, seeds need to be buried in organic matter in order to germinate. In fact, scientists don't really know how the seeds are dispersed. Finally, the relationship between the fungi and conifers is vital to the health of the plant. For these reasons, the conditions for the growth of this plant are highly specific.