Brodiaea Family

Blue Dicks © DSchiel

Themidaceae (the-mid-AY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

  • Cluster of tube-shaped flowers
  • Single, leafless flower stalk
  • Straplike leaves that wither before flowers bloom

Description (Jepson)

  • Monocotyledons (monocots) – monocots are a major lineage of flowering, mostly herbaceous plants, generally characterized by
    • Single seed leaf (cotyledon)
    • Linear or oblong leaves with parallel venation
    • Flower parts in threes
    • Pollen grains with a single pore
    • Vascular bundles scattered in stem
    • Fibrous root system
  • Perennial herbs
  • Geophytes (plants with underground storage organs)
    • Grow from corms (short, solid underground stems) with fibrous outer coats
  • Leaves
    • 1-10 basal leaves
    • Straplike, linear to narrowly lanceolate
    • Usually fleshy
    • Often wither before the plant blooms
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is generally an umbel (a spoke-like flower cluster with stalks radiating from a single point) at the top of a single leafless stalk (scape)
      • Stalk is sometimes wavy or twining
      • 2-4 bracts (modified leaves) at base
    • Bisexual, radially-symmetric trumpet-, star-, or bell-shaped flowers
      • 3 petals and 3 sepals (outer flower parts) in 2 separate whorls, similar in appearance and collectively called tepals
      • Tepals usually fused into a tube
      • Colors usually white to blue and purple
    • 6 stamens (male flower parts) or 3 stamens alternating with 3 staminodes (sterile modified stamens)
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a capsule (a dry multi-chambered pod that splits open) with 3 chambers


  • Approximately 80 species
    • Found in Western North America, Mexico, and Central America
    • Includes blue dicks, Ithuriel’s spear, muilla, pretty faces, and brodiaeas
    • Check out this short video (Jepson 2020)
  • Geophytes (e.g. plants growing from bulbs, corms, rhizomes, or enlarged taproots) are well adapted to survive fire, our Mediterranean climate’s long, dry summers, and extended droughts
    • Above-ground growth dies back after flowering, while underground the plant survives with stored water and nutrients
  • Native people harvested many Brodiaea family species and other edible geophytes (Anderson 2005)
    • Corms were boiled, steamed, roasted, or baked in earthen ovens
    • Plants were actively managed
      • Hardwood sticks were used for digging
      • Some plants were spared to allow future crops
      • Cormlets were dispersed and replanted
      • Areas were burned to decrease competition and recycle nutrients
  • Scientific name from the now defunct genus Themis, from the Greek themis, “order”
    • Themis was the ancient Greek goddess of justice and divine order and is traditionally depicted holding the Scales of Justice (Encyclopædia Britannica 2018).
  • Common name from the included genus Brodiaea (BRO-dee-a), named for the Scottish botanist James Brodie (1744-1824)
  • In the past, variously classified in the Lily (Liliaceae), Onion (Alliaceae), or Amaryllis (Amaryllidaceae) families, and now sometimes treated as a subfamily of the Asparagus family (Asparagaceae)
  • Represented by 9 species at Edgewood
    • This is an extraordinary number of Brodiaea species for a relatively small preserve (467 acres) as the entire Santa Cruz Mountains bioregion contains only 10 species

See General References

Specific References

Anderson, M.K. 2005. Tending the Wild. University of California, Berkeley.

Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018, Feb. 7. Themis. Britannica.

Jepson Herbarium. 2020, Oct. 1. Themidaceae (Brodiaea, Dichelostemma, Dipterostemon, and Triteleia) [Video]. The Jepson Videos: Visual Guide to the Plants of California. The Regents of the University of California. YouTube.

Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family