Butterfly Mariposa Lily

Butterfly mariposa lilies (Calochortus venustus) are usually light colored with a central dark reddish spot on each petal and a second lighter reddish spot toward the petal’s apex. This butterfly mariposa lily, photographed in May along the Condor Gulch Trail in The Pinnacles National Park CA had that whitish coloration. Less often, this native perennial can have yellow, scarlet or purple petals.

Butterfly mariposa lilies are organized in threes: three curving sepals, three oval petals, six stamens and three square nectaries on the stigma. There are a few hairs at the base of the petals. The inflorescence consists of one to six flowers in an umbel at the terminal end of the flower stalk.

The plant grows from a bulb. There is a long, parallel-veined basal leaf that withers by the time the blooms appear. Cauline leaves, when they are present, are small and few in number. The bulbs are sweet and were eaten raw or cooked by Native Americans.

Butterfly mariposa lily fruits are linear capsules.

Endemic to California, butterfly mariposa lilies grow from 980 to 8860 feet in sandy soils, usually decomposed granite.

The genus name means “beautiful grass”in Greek while the specific epithet refers to the Roman goddess, Venus, and in Latin means “charming or lovely”.

I have a friend who has made it a “quest” to find all the Calochortus species in California. The last time I looked there were 57 species and subspecies of this genus in California. Slowly I am adding to my Calochortus list too, but can never hope to catch up with her.

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1 Response to Butterfly Mariposa Lily

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Hey, I know this one also! It grew wild, although sparsely, on the hills behind the dormitory that I lived in at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. I picked some, with no concern about interference to the ecosystem at the time, but they all wilted within minutes.


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