Plants 10–50 cm. Leaves: basal 3–10, blade lanceolate, 30–100 x 5–30 mm, 1- or 2-pinnatifid, margins of adjacent lobes nonoverlapping, entire or serrate, surfaces glabrous; cauline 2–10, blade elliptic or triangular to lanceolate, 5–70 x 10–25 mm, 1-pinnatifid, margins of adjacent lobes nonoverlapping, entire or serrate, surfaces glabrous. Racemes simple, 1–6, exceeding basal leaves, each 12–40-flowered; bracts trullate to obtrullate, 5–18 x 2–15 mm, pinnatifid, margins entire, surfaces glabrous. Pedicels 1.5–5.5 mm. Flowers: calyx 5–9 mm, glabrous, lobes 5, triangular, 1–3 mm, apex entire, glabrous; corolla 7–13 mm, tube white or cream to yellowish or pink to pinkish purple, 4–7 mm; galea white or cream to yellowish with purple spots at base, or pink to pinkish purple, 2–5.5 mm, beaked, beak coiled, 5–9 mm, base curving, margins entire medially and distally, apex surrounded by abaxial lip, axis of coil nearly vertical; abaxial lip surrounding beak, white or cream to yellowish, or pink to pinkish purple, 5–8 mm.
Alta., B.C., Calif., Idaho, Mont., Oreg., Utah, Wash., Wyo.
Varieties 3 (3 in the flora).
The coiled beak that extends directly downward from the top of the galea is distinctive in Pedicularis contorta. Seen from the side, the large, upward-expanded, lateral lobes of the abaxial lip surround the beak, concealing it from view. The flowers of P. contorta are very similar to those of P. racemosa; however, the leaves of P. racemosa are undivided, the beak curves down and to one side, and the inflorescence often branches, forming a panicle of short racemes with long internodes between flowers.
Flower and calyx color and width of the subtending floral bracts delimit three varieties in Pedicularis contorta; corolla color is difficult to discern in herbarium specimens. The following key is adapted from R. N. Reese (1984).
|1||Corolla tubes, galeas, and abaxial lips white or cream to yellowish, galeas with purple spots at base; calyces pale green.||Pedicularis contorta var. contorta|
|1||Corolla tubes, galeas, and abaxial lips pink to pinkish purple; calyces green or reddish with purple spots.||> 2|
|2||Calyces green; bracts 5–8 mm wide, proximal margins ciliate.||Pedicularis contorta var. ctenophora|
|2||Calyces reddish with purple spots; bracts 2–4 mm wide, proximal margins glabrous.||Pedicularis contorta var. rubicunda|