Another early spring wildflower is the checker lily (Fritillaria affinis). These specimens were found earlier this month along the Waters Gulch Trail at Lake Shasta (Shasta County CA).
Also colloquially called chocolate lily or mission bells, F. affinis is a native perennial growing in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and British Columbia. Rocky slopes, oak or pine scrub and occasionally subalpine meadows at lower elevations are the preferred habitats of checker lily.
Checker lilies arise from a bulb. Scales on the bulb cause the bulb to resemble a mass of rice grains. Native Americans cooked and ate checker lily bulbs. Today, except in survival situations, the small size of checker lily bulbs does not justify the destruction of large quantities of these beautiful wildflowers.
The leaves of checker lilies are lance shaped with pointed tips and occur in whorls along the erect stem. Lower whorls contain three leaves while those nearer the terminal end of the stem often have two leaves.
A single to several nodding checker lily flowers form at at the end of each stem. The flowers of checker lilies are highly variable in color – ranging from brown purple mottled with yellow to pale yellow-green mottled with purple. Each flower has six tepals (structures that are not clearly either a sepal or petal), six stamens and a three-chambered ovary with a three-lobed stigma.
Fruits of checker lilies are capsules with six angles. Each fruit has three chambers with two rows of brownish, flat seeds in each.
Fritillaria, the genus name, derives from the Latin “fritillus”, which is a “dice box”, referring to the checkered pattern on the tepals. Because checker lily is considered the species that best represents the genus, the species was designated, affinis, meaning “related or similar to”.