I would bet this plant is among those that most people, even the botanically interested, would pass right by. Rosy twisted-stalks, and other twisted-stalks (we have several in the PNW) look like a cute zip-zagging plant similar to Solomon's seals. But if you lift one up you'll see- I think of it like the classic romantic scene moment where the confident love-interest lifts the chin of the bashful beauty for a kiss that says "I love you for you and see just how beautiful you are". Anyway, what you'll see, if you swoop these cuties up for a kiss, are the dangling little frilled bells of flowers or lovely bright red egg-shaped fruits that look like plump jelly beans on a strand. Yes I have laid on the ground to get their picture. Sometimes you have to get down with the plants and see them as a hovering pollinator would in order to really SEE them.
My current favorite of the twisted-stalks is rosy. Streptopus lanceolatus var. curvipes, and S. lancealatus var. roseus, because they are very close and similar. These are all in the Liliaceae family, same as the similar Solomon's seal. Formerly rosy was called Streptopus roseus. They get their name from the Greek word 'streptos' which translates to "twisted", while 'pous' means "footed"- referring to the bend in the flower stem (aka peduncle) when it emerges between the leaves.
Rosy's are found in the Pacific Northwest from Oregon in the south up to British Columbia in Canada and even into Alberta. They are fairly easy to identify with the unique growth habits that the Lily family is known for, notable parallel leaf veins & 3 or 6 petaled flowers. The flower stalks dangle down at each leave axis/node and they make a unique twist (hence the name) but those of this species have more maroon-ish rose-colored flowers (shaped like bells), hence- rosy. They may look similar to false Solomon's seal and fairy bells when young. For a fun oddity- the flowers may look like they are coming off underneath a leaf rather than in an axis, but their stalk is often fused so closely to the plant stem that they emerge and drop down just before the next leaf above. Weird huh? Or is that more botanical semantics?
Twisted-stalks reproduce via seed (in bright red fruits) and by their spreading underground rhizomes (aka swollen specialized underground stems). Their flowers are likely pollinated by bees and flies with seeds being then dispersed by animals (mammals and maybe birds), but there's not a lot documented (and findable) out there. Who wants a study project species??
Some twisted-stalk (aka Streptopus species) are called wild cucumber or watermelon berry, hinting at their edibility. There are three main PNW species- S. amplexifolius, S. lanceolatus, and S. streptopoides. Traits to distinguish these: sharply kinked flower stalks and greenish-white flowers, vs. rose-colored on curved stalks, vs. small (8” tall) with flatter flowers instead of the recurving petals of other twisted stalks. Rosy twisted-stalk (S. lanceolatus and its varieties) are found in the PNW as well as the east coast, and into both coasts of Canada. They particularly like moist forested alpine habitats preferring wetter areas like snow-melt creeks and drainages. Some clasping (S. amplexifolius) can have a hint of rosiness to the flowers but their petals are typically very recurved and more pointed.
Each species has good edibility of young stalks in spring and their leaves, eaten fresh and tasting of cucumber or cooked as greens.
A moderate amount of fruit is edible though they can have a laxative effect in larger quantity, yet also taste like mildly sweet watermelon. Its relative clasping twisted-stalk (S. amplexifolius) has fruits that taste more like cucumber but are also called watermelon berry because they are also that vibrant red & oval shape. Clasping twisted stalk also has leaves that wrap a bit more (aka- clasp) around the stem, which is what the species name means. So, don’t eat these fruits in quantities like you would actual watermelon.
Their roots are said to have medicinal qualities as well. Interestingly, some First Nations peoples consider these plants poisonous and even have names like “dead man’s berries” for them, perhaps assuming they were harmful due to the red spots that appear on young shoots which is in fact a common trait of several highly poisonous plants. Perhaps no one wanted to test that association, which I can not blame anyone for. And the Lily family (Liliaceae) does have some very poisonous members. Not all groups of people have “that one guy” who will try to eat just about anything. You know that “guy”. They have a lot of stories that end with a bad evening. So to be safe, make sure you are very familiar with THIS genus if you are aiming to harvest young shoots to forage. No oopsies, or you’re gonna have a bad time. Or a not so good time if you eat too many berries- remember. Laxative. Which can also be useful, so perspective is key. Fun nickname of the these plants- “scoot berries”, because you have to scoot off to the latrine if you eat a bunch of the fruits. Still… my favorite common name of a fruit is farkleberry.
The closest harmful plant that people are at risk of harvesting by mistake is false hellebore (Veratrum viride), which is uniformly green, has larger dense leaves that emerge in tight spire that stay upright for their full development, and even MORE crinkly parallel leaf veins. And they are very toxic, but look for a purple-spotted and slightly bending shoot if you want to forage these. If you confuse them with the also spotted stems of poison hemlock (EXTREMELY toxic!!) which is in the carrot family with hugely different leaves and growth… then honestly you should not be trying to forage wild plants. You’re not there yet, keep learning! Start with dandelion, so easy. Anyway, caution notes complete. Just get up a mountain hiking trail and find a wet spot to see these little dangling crinkly darlings for yourself.
You don’t have to eat the wild plants to enjoy them, but that is a special type of connection. You don’t have to full-on make out with them though, you can just high five and give them a big smile as you stop to admire them and the many other alpine cuties you will surely find. They are in a special and delicate habitat that requires our caution and gently presence if any at all. Truly, every foot step we take off the trail can have a negative impact in these environments versus the hardiness of the lowlands. So tread softly, smell the Rosaceae, crouch down to see hidden drooping flowers & fruits, and carry a big stick (for stability and in case you need to poke a fellow hiker).
Discovering Wild Plants- Alaska, Western Canada, the Northwest. Janice Schofield. 1992. Alaska Northwest Books.