The Tuolumne Iris - Iris hartwegii columbiana

Photos by Ron Parsons

This local race of Iris hartwegii grows in an area scarcely larger than a square mile along the South Fork of the Stanislaus River above the town of Columbia, in Tuolumne County. It is taller than other Sierra iris, with wider leaves and more flowers on each stem - characters intriguingly reminiscent of Iris munzii - the large, lavender-flowered Pacifica iris also found in a similar restricted area 140 miles to the south. Both of their relect home ranges may be contracting since the cooler days of the last ice age. The California Native Plant Society lists both as rare or endangered.

In describing the Toulumne subspecies, Lee Lenz called attention to several features distinguishing it from other Sierra irises: the stems usually have 3 or sometimes 2 attractive yellow flowers instead of 1 or 2, plants tend to be larger with leaves both wider (around 1/2 inch) and longer - sometimes more than 2 feet long, and the surrounding oak-pine habitat is at a slightly lower elevation - 1,800 and 2,400 feet. Victor Cohen later wrote in his A Guide to the Pacific Coast Irises - "this is a much more attractive plant than the species."

While photographing mariposa lilies in Tuolumne County, author Ron Parsons took these two photos of this rarely seen iris. Click on the pictures, or Ron's name in the credit line above, to see his full gallery of Tuolumne wildflower photos.

Tuolumne iris, I. hartwegii columbiana by Ron Parsons

Tuolumne Iris, Iris hartwegii columbiana. Italian Bar Road in Tuolumne County, CA. Photos by Ron Parsons. May 1, 2010.