Western False Asphodel

Rare Plant Profile – Western False Asphodel (Triantha occidentalis (S. Wats.) Gates) [1]

Western false asphodel (Triantha occidentalis (S. Wats.) Gates) is a perennial herb in the Tofieldiaceae Family (previously in Liliaceae [2]). There are two subspecies recognized in Alberta: brevistyla (short-style sticky Tofieldia) and montana (mountain Tofieldia) [3]This plant grows from underground rhizomes [4] and is either leafless or has 1-3 leaves near the base [5]. Flowers are white or greenish, 3-7 mm long, with 3 petals and 3 slightly shorter and wider sepals [6].

This carnivorous plant has a unique feature of trapping small insects near its insect-pollinated flowers [7]. Flower stems are coated with sticky hairs that produce a digestive enzyme known as phosphatase, which digests the small insects [8]. The hairs can catch midges and gnats but are not sticky enough to capture larger insects like bees and butterflies that pollinate the flowers [9].

In Canada, western false asphodel is found in wet meadows, marshes, fens, and bogs, as well as along streambanks in British Columbia and Alberta [2]. While its conservation status rank in British Columbia is S5, or Secure, its conservation status rank in Alberta is S1, or Critically Imperiled [10]. This is due to its low number of occurrences, it is likely at the edge of its range, and its montane habitat is under threat from development activities [11].

Photo by Steve Matson
Photo by Steve Matson

[1] https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.639287/Triantha_occidentalis

[2] https://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Triantha%20occidentalis&redblue=Both&lifeform=7

[3]List of Elements – Vascular Plants. Available at: https://www.albertaparks.ca/albertaparksca/management-land-use/alberta-conservation-information-management-system-acims/download-data/

[4] Ibid.

[5] Kershaw, L.; Gould, J.; Johnson, D.; Lancaster, J. 2001. Rare vascular plants of Alberta. Univ. Alberta Press, Edmonton, Alberta and Nat. Resour. Can., Can. For. Serv., North. For. Cent., Edmonton, Alberta

[6] Ibid.

[7] http://www.sci-news.com/biology/carnivorous-triantha-occidentalis-09947.html

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triantha_occidentalis

[9] http://www.sci-news.com/biology/carnivorous-triantha-occidentalis-09947.html

[10] https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.639287/Triantha_occidentalis

[11] https://albertawilderness.ca/wp-content/uploads/20050000_rp_alberta_species_status.pdf