Calochortus in the Valley

by Pat Jaquith

Calochortus macrocarpus

There are at least six species of Calochortus lilies in Montana, and we are lucky to host at least three in our area! Anyone walking in our woodlands and open hilltops in June/July, 2020, had many opportunities to see some of them.

Calochortus apiculatus (Baker Mariposa Lily or 3-Spot Mariposa Lily)

Mariposa is a Spanish word for butterfly; it’s fun to think of these 10-inch flowers as early butterflies. While walking in the woods in June/July, I found them in abundance. Look closely: The dark spot at the base of each curved petal is a nectary from which pollinators seek their sweet treat while getting coated with pollen.

Members of the lily family usually have parts in multiples of 3, but I saw many of these lilies that had four – or even five – petals.
This Calochortus right after a rain certainly shows a lot of “furriness” on its petals! It might be classified as a Calochortus elegans, (Elegant Mariposa lily) but that is still under discussion.
This one, with the lovely purple at base of the sepals, is a possible Calochortus elegans, as well. (The sepal is the pointed piece between the petals and served as a cover for the bud.)
The Montana Field Guide describes the possibility of hybridization between the C. apiculatus and C.elegans species. That makes it difficult to definitively give a name to a flower!
Calochortus macrocarpus (Green-band Mariposa Lily or Sagebrush Mariposa Lily)

These colorful flowers with longer stems favor dry, open spaces and generally blossom around mid-July. The colors range from pale lavender to this darker purple, each with long sepals that extend well beyond the petals. On one hillside where there were many in bloom, we went from one to the next, trying to decide which was our favorite! C.macrocarpus is listed as “Status Under Review” in the Montana Field Guide which indicates that it should be inventoried frequently as it may become listed as a plant of concern. Its habitat is becoming endangered.

Calochortus bulb and root

Calochortus grow from a bulb which helps to protected them in case of wildfire. They reproduce from seed: after the flower is pollinated, a seed pod filled with numerous seeds develops; it splits in late summer, casting the seeds on the ground where it grows. If the weather has been cooperative, some of those seeds will sprout in spring, but it takes several years’ growth before a new plant will bloom.

2 Replies to “Calochortus in the Valley”

  1. Linda de Kort

    Thanks Pat. We have mistakedly been calling these “SEGO” lilies, but I guess that is another species, Calochortus nuttallii, which is found mainly in Utah?

    • Pat Jaquith Post author

      According to my resources, Sego lilies can be found in eastern and southern areas of Montana; it is the state flower of Utah, and I’ve seen it there in very desert-like conditions.


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