Habit: one of the earliest blooming perennials in the Pacific Northwest, spring gold grows from a slender taproot and reaches up to 2 feet tall. It has long, erect leafy stems and fleshy, usually reddish petioles (short leafstalks) marked with conspicuous veins. Leaves are soft-textured and lacy, divided into 3 or 4 leaflets, which are dissected into smaller, narrow segments. Foliage pattern and shape remotely resembles that of fine-leaved ferns or wild carrots, the latter is closely related to spring gold. Inflorescence is made up of tiny yellow flowers with 5 to 7 rays of unequal length. Flower heads are densely arranged in flat-topped umbels less than 2 inches across, and are supported by round leaflike bracts with toothed margins.
Ecology: grows in moist, open, rocky hillsides, grassy bluffs and meadows at low elevations. Its native habitat ranges from the coast to the west side of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, and from southern California to British Columbia.
Growing conditions: spring gold enjoys full sun or light shade and rocky, well-drained to dry sites. It tolerates a variety of soils, from sand to heavy clay. It is an ideal plant for a stony bank or butterfly garden. Its flowers are a primary source of nectar to Taylor’s checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori) butterflies. In absence of it, the butterfly will search for wild strawberries (Fragaria species) as a second choice.
Lomatiums were very popular within native tribes of North America because of their long, edible roots. The plants have also been used in ritual ceremonies to this day. Tribes of the northwest passed their knowledge about the nutrition of the roots to early explorers and settlers. Lewis and Clark recorded in their journals, having bought Lomatium roots from local natives during their travels.