Turkey Peas (Orogenia fusiformis)
This small and humble flower is often one of the earliest we find on hikes in the eastern gorge, and could be around now in places like the Dalles Mountain Ranch and Seven-Mile Hill west of The Dalles, although many very similar species make it hard to positively identify. Turkey Peas are part of the “Snowbed Community”, that, according to Wildflowers of the Western Cascades (Ross & Chambers, 1988) includes a group of plants that appear collectively within weeks after snow melt, in relatively open non-forested flat terrain. Other flowers in this group include the unmistakable tiny Steershead, and the more easily recognized swaths of golden Glacier Lilies. You can be sure that any site where you find this flower was recently covered in snow, leaving behind moisture for these quick flowering plants, which later are replaced by other, slower growing flowering plants.
We’re not sure where the Turkey Peas name comes from, but their dark-white flower mix explains their other common name — Salt-and-Pepper flower. The bulb was an important food staple of native tribes, and is often referred to as the Great Basin Indian Potato.
Note: As we are finding with many of our stalled draft posts, there is some confusion in specifically identifying this flower. We found a couple similar-looking plants, all in the Parsley family and all follow snow-melt in well-drained gravel or meadows. But we found it challenging to distinguish the earlier, lower elevation Lomatiums (gormanii and piperi) (left photo below) from this post, the slightly later, mid-elevation Orogenia fusiformis (right photo below). Both ranges overlap in the Eastern Columbia Gorge, with the Lomatium range largely confined to the pacific northwest and most prevalent in the Washington Cascades while the Orogenia are more common in Eastern Oregon in our area, but extend into Utah and the western Rocky Mountains.