The lack of leaves and chlorophyll identify sarcodes sanguinea
as a parasitic plant. It also has no stem; the only part above ground is the fleshy, glandular-hairy flower stalk, which emerges from the forest floor in mountainous regions during spring and early summer, often when the ground is still covered by snow; the bright red buds make the plant very noticeable. The inflorescence typically reaches heights of 6 to 12 inches (and widths of 1 to 2 inches), and is colored bright red to orange red, becoming lighter at the base with age.
Flowers, numbering up to 30, are subtended by narrow, strap-like bracts up to 2 inches long, with ciliate margins. Each urn-shaped flower has five short, unfused sepals, five petals - fused for more than half their length, and ten stamens.
The snow plant is the sole species in a monotypic genus, and is found in medium to high elevation regions of California and Oregon, from the San Jacinto Mountains to the southern Cascades.