The pale and unassuming beauty of white rushlily (Hastingsia alba) is often overlooked. Found only in northern California and southern Oregon, white rushlily is a common site for botany enthusiasts who hike around the region, but in general, is a little known plant.
White rushlily grows in many different habitat types but is most often found in moist areas in forest, brush, meadow, riparian, wetland and rocky places. Depending on the soil type it can grow up to 3′ tall, but if the soils are particularly harsh it will be much smaller, especially on serpentine soil.
Hastingsia is a small genus in the plant family Asparagaceae, the asparagus family, and the subfamily Agavoideae, the agave subfamily. The genus Hastingsia used to be classified in the lily family, hence the name white rushlily, but this has changed in recent years. Now Hastingsia is classified in the same subfamily as California native plants such as desert agave (Agave deserti) and Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia). Seem strange to you? Plants are great teachers about the interconnectedness of species. There are two other plant genera in the Klamath-Siskiyou that are also in the agave subfamily: Camas (Camassia) and Soaproot (Chlorogalum).
Other related and endemic rushlilies in the Klamath-Siskiyou are also worth searching out. In the northern part of the Illinois Valley of southern Oregon grows the large-flowered rush lily (Hastingsia bracteosa var. bracteosa). In the southern part of the Illinois valley of southern Oregon grows the purple flowered rushlily (Hastingsia bracteosa var. atropurpurea). In northern California grows the Klamath rushlily (Hastingsia serpentinicola). For more information on the taxonomy of Hastingsia species in the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion, please check out: Species boundary quandaries in Hastingsia (Agavoideae, Asparagaceae).
Although white rushlily grows in wet meadows, bogs and rocky seeps in the wild, it is easily adapted to the irrigated garden environment; it is happy to dry out in the late summer, as it does in many seasonal seeps and springs in the wild. Flowering occurs between May and June at lower elevations and June to July at higher elevations. Growing white rushlily from seed is easy to do but will take some patience. From seed it will be several years until the bulb develops enough stored energy to flower. Propagation by seed requires three months of cold stratification.
Many pollinator species use white rushlily in the garden, including many different bumble bees. I recently stopped to check a patch of showy milkweed for use by monarch butterflies and realized the milkweed was growing in a natural rocky seep on a roadside in combination with white rushlily, right in the valley bottom. It is a highly adaptable plant.
The following is from the Jepson Herbarium’s Jepson eFlora:
Hastingsia alba (Durand) S. Watson
Habit: Bulb 26–56 mm, 17–31 mm wide. Inflorescence: dense; branches generally 2–3. Flower: 6–8 mm; perianth parts elongating as anthers mature, equal, white to +- yellow, outer +- 1 mm wide, linear, blunt, inner +- 2 mm wide, ovate, acute. Fruit: 6–9 mm, oblong. Chromosomes: n=26.
Ecology: Wet meadows, bogs, rocky seeps; Elevation: 500–2300 m. Bioregional Distribution: NW, CaR, n SNH; Distribution Outside California: southwestern Oregon. Flowering Time: Jun–Jul
Synonyms: Schoenolirion album Durand