Skip to main content
Join Member Login
HomeAmerica's Flora-Shaw



Botanical Art Worldwide: America's Flora

Threadleaf Brodiaea

Brodiaea filifolia

Brodiaea filifolia S. Watson, known as thread-leaved brodiaea, is a rare and endangered wildflower endemic only to Southern California. The delightful, delicate purple flowers are found in heavy clay soils next to seasonal vernal pools and in grassland habitats, mostly in Orange, Riverside and San Diego Counties. As the name implies, there are thin leaves at the base of the plant, which frequently wither away early, leaving only the umbel of the flowers and the stem.

California is one of 25 biological hotspots in the world. One of the most biologically diverse states in the US, California also has the highest number of endemic species (species found only in one place). It ranks second highest for the percentage of species at risk. The thread-leaved brodiaea is one of those species.

Like most endangered species, the thread-leaved brodiaea suffers from habitat loss due to drought and changing water patterns, development, pollution, invasion by exotic and ornamental species, fire suppression efforts, livestock grazing and recreational vehicle use.

Additionally, the thread-leaved brodiaea reproduces mostly by cloning, growing new corms around the parent. It also can reproduce sexually and set seed, but requires a cross between genetically diverse, unrelated parent plants. Closely related populations won’t reproduce, nor can the flower self-fertilize. Smaller groups of closely related plants, separated by large geographic areas make it less likely the population will be able to increase its genetic diversity.

I first encountered large areas of filifolia many years ago, while hiking with family and friends on the Santa Rosa Plateau in Riverside County, California, around the vernal pools. Vernal pools—seasonal wetlands formed in natural depressions in the land—are found on mesa tops, and support some of the rarest plant and animal species in the region, including fairy shrimp. The pools themselves magically appear in an otherwise dry area. Likewise, the thread-leaved brodiaea seem magical and impossible, with barely any leaves and deep purple flowers supported on a thin stem that has managed to push through the grass.

For many years, we returned annually to hike in spring, during the peak of the wildflower bloom.

When we converted our yard to California native plants, we were given samples by a nursery, which had been contracted (legally) to grow the Brodiaea for reforestation, from responsively collected corms. We are hoping to help in this effort.

This painting is a study from the third year after we planted the corms, when we had a stunning display of flowers. The weather since that season hasn’t followed any “usual” pattern, and we haven’t had any more blooms. We’ve had years with leaves, and the parent corms certainly have put out many more baby corms, but, alas, no more flowers, so far.

The painting is in watercolor on Kelmscott vellum. A special thank you and a shout out goes to milly acharya, who also has a painting in Botanical Art Worldwide: America’s Flora. At the time, milly encouraged me to try my hand at painting directly on the vellum from life, with no pencil drawing or transfer underneath to guide me. Just start painting on a blank sheet. I confess: I was terrified. Thank you, milly!

Through one season after another I have painted studies of the corms (carefully digging them up and then replanting them), and the leaves. This year we had an unseasonably hot, then cold, winter, almost no rain, and have fallen back into a serious drought. I have my fingers crossed, however, that we might get some flowers anyway, and I can continue the series.


Next Story

Back to List

Read more about this artist’s work: 19th Annual


Brodiaea filifolia

Threadleaf Brodiaea

Watercolor on Vellum

4 x 5-1/4

©2012 Deborah Shaw

2024 ASBA - All rights reserved

All artwork copyrighted by the artist. Copying, saving, reposting, or republishing of artwork prohibited without express permission of the artist.

Powered by ClubExpress