Checker Lily

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”.

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7 Responses to Checker Lily

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Like many natives, those can be temperamental. My colleague has been growing a related species for many years, and is intent on keeping them alive because they can not be collected from the wild. They have not spread in all the years I have known them, since 1995, and all attempts to divide them are unsuccessful. I do not know how they spread as much as they did before my time. They are a good colony, about three feet wide, but I do nothing more than keep the weeds out. Years ago, I watered them more than they wanted after the rain stopped, and they did not like that. They got dry another year, and I was concerned, but told to not bother them. They were fine the next spring.

    • tonytomeo says:

      That name sounds familiar. Now I am wondering if they are the same thing. They were from near the Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula, quite a distance from your region.

    • gingkochris says:

      Many native species do not transplant well because they require specific microbial/fungal associations that are not present outside their particular habitat.

      • tonytomeo says:

        As you know, there are a few small perennials that form very small colonies around the Santa Cruz Mountains, but do not like to be moved at all! It makes one wonder how the small colonies ever got started! If a seed managed to germinate away from the main colony, it might not be able to establish the specific microbial or fungal associations that it needs. It is CRAZILY improbable! Yet, there they are. We do have some that have done quite well, but only after a few years of getting established in their new spot. The wild ginger does not want to get going, but I think it is because of something else it is lacking. That is one that I could never relocate. It ‘survives’ but barely.

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