The genus name, Calochortus, derives from the Greek words “kalo” meaning “beautiful” and “chorta” meaning “grass”. Wildflowers in this genus are indeed very attractive. One of my favorites is the mariposa lily (Calachortus macrocarpus).
Mariposa lilies are found in the undisturbed, dry sandy soils of western Canada and western United States. Sagebrush steppes and ponderosa pine forests are favored habitats.
Mariposa lilies have a tall, unbranched stem surrounded by a few grass-like leaves growing from a round, starchy bulb. The leaves wither by the time the plant blooms. The lavender flowers have three narrow sepals that are longer than the three petals. There is a green stripe on the back of each broad petal. The inner petal base has a patch of hairlike filaments associated with a purple band of varying intensity. Following the “rule of multiple threes” found in lilies, there are six stamens. The fruit is a lance-shaped capsule containing many small seeds.
The bulbs of this native perennial have historically been eaten either raw or cooked. To me the bulbs taste like water chestnuts.
Cattle enthusiastically eat mariposa lilies, denuding rangelands of this lovely wildflower. Invasive weeds, particularly St. John’s wort and yellow-star thistle, among others, crowd out mariposa lilies, contributing to their declining numbers.
Sagebrush lily is another colloquial name for C. macrocarpus.
These mariposa lilies were growing on a rocky hillside near the Dan Ryan Meadow at Ash Creek (Lassen County CA).