Fringecups (Tellima grandiflora) are characterized by their long, lolling stalks of distinctively lashed blooms. Each individual bud features a fused calyx of five green sepals that forms its common name’s “cup” when its pleated tip opens. Five thin and finely divided petals then emerge and reflex over the calyx, forming the “fringe.” The petals begin white or green, but often mature to a deep rose, probably as a result of pollination, as do many flowers. Up to around twenty such blooms dangle from a single raceme, or floral stalk, all loosely facing the direction of the plant’s light source. Reaching approximately three feet/one meter in height, the stalks often gently curve along their length and nod demurely at the tip, almost as if burdened by the weight of their blossoms. Even after the fringed petals have withered, the cups persist, cradling the seeds of the next generation until they spill out into their woodland world, as in the accompanying photo.
Growing from thick, creeping rhizomes, fringecups are perennials that can fill empty spaces as a ground cover or merely meander through a mixed woodland border. An individual plant consists of a basal clump of long-stemmed, palmate leaves, divided into several shallow lobes. The petioles, or, leaf stems, shorten at each tier on the raceme, becoming clasping with no stem at all, as in the accompanying photo. (The leaf appears to have been patterned by what was likely some species of leaf miner larva.)
Fringecups abound in moist, low to mid-elevation mixed woodland throughout the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains from Alaska to northern California. They are less common where they extend east into the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Idaho, and Montana. Look for them in bloom from mid-spring to mid-summer, depending on elevation. In Western Washington, fringecups are often found in the company of the distantly related and equally bizarre youth-on-age, or, piggyback plant (Tolmiea menziesii), as well as largeleaf avens (Geum macrophyllum).
Typical fringecup habitat in Western Washington:
© 2023 Anthony Colburn. Images may not be used or reproduced in any form without express written consent.