Monument Plant (Frasera speciosa)
Hiking along a ridge in Washington’s central Cascades, we were surprised to find a group of these large, unusual looking plants in various stages of growth (see last picture). The few that were just starting to bloom, had similarities to false hellebores in their size, and general nature. A stout cone of unusual flowers was rising from a massive whorl of leaves. The flowers are a subtle combination of alternate light green pointed sepals and rounder actual petals, marked with purple spots each containing a pair of furry glands full of nectar. From the flower center protrudes a pale yellowish-green dome (ovary), surrounded by four stamens with pollen-containing yellow-tips.
Later, we learned of another unusual trait; it is a monocarpic plant, meaning it only flowers once in its lifetime. Like the well-known southwestern Century plant that takes 100 years to bloom, the Monument plant often takes 20-80 years according to Dr. Inouye at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, who has done extensive research, including monitoring their growth from seeds he planted in 1981(!). These plants frequently have coordinated en masse blooming, in response to a wet spring or other favorable conditions several years before flowering.
We’d like to return to see this plant, also known as Giant Frasera, later in the season when the cone of flowers would be dispersed on a taller stem (grows up to 7 feet!). We’ve since seen another, smaller frasera–albicaulis, in the gorge.