Unknown Saxifrage or Lily

When taking in the sights of the boardwalk here in Seaside, I’m always scanning the dunes for unfamiliar plants poking through the abundant grass. I noticed this one on the 10th of August when I was checking on an European Searocket plant I’d been watching for a few weeks. There were just two of these little cuties.

California Saxifrage - Saxifraga californica 1It was tucked up close to the sea wall and bore no resemblence to any other plants nearby. Wide, spade-shaped leaves and delicate lily-like white flowers with pink accents made me think they were a member of the lily family. It was a busy time for me, so I just collected a specimen from the smaller of the the plants, took pictures, and vowed to identify it later.

California Saxifrage - Saxifraga californica 2The plant was hearty and healthy, with no signs of sickness or infestation. It grew a little over two feet high by about a foot wide and had less than a dozen clusters of blooms. In the above image, you can see distinctive red coloring on the stems and in the veins of some of the leaves. 

The leaf growth pattern is a little difficult to pin down. I’d describe the leaves as having a cordate shape, smooth margins (edges), with equal parts clasping and alternating growth patterns. 

California Saxifrage - Saxifraga californica 3
Flowers either grow from the point at which the leaf stalk branches off the main stem or at the base of the leaf stem itself. The flowers themselves grew in clusters that had both embellete and raceme characteristics.

I thought they were California Saxifrage Due to the strong resemblence of the flower, but the leaves are quite different, as are the flower clusters. The leaves scream lily. In fact it looks like the love child of a trillium, saxifrage, and False Lily of the Valley.

I’ve poured over plant images for hours and keep coming up blank, so it is possible this was a rare mutation or a new species.
A few days later, both of the plants were gone! Where they once grew were huge holes in he sand that appeared to have been carved by a release of water from pipes that run beneath the boardwalk. Who knew? Rest in peace little unknown.

Sources: 

California saxifrage – USDA PLANTS. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2016, from http://www.plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=SACA18

Pojar, J., MacKinnon, A., & Alaback, P. B. (1994). Revised Plants of the Pacific Northwest coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska. Redmond, WA: Lone Pine Pub. Pages 507 and 508

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