Mariposa Lily: Calochortus Leichtlinii

Calochortus leichtlinii is a native American wildflower known by the common names Leichtlin’s mariposa, smokey mariposa, and mariposa lily. It is found in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains and Modoc Plateau, growing there at altitudes from 4,000 to 12,000 feet. It is less plentiful but present in the Mojave Desert.
The plant, a member of the lily family, is at home in granite outcroppings, especially along exposed hillsides and ridges. The Calochortus genus is richly varied and also includes other flower essence plants such as Star Tulip, Yellow Star Tulip, Fairy Lantern and the Splendid Mariposa Lily.
In addition to growing in the Sierra Nevada and Modoc Plateau of California, it is native to adjacent parts of the Great Basin in southeastern Oregon and western Nevada, growing in coniferous forest and chaparral habitats, including the lowest grassy hills, such as along the Sierra Nevada boundary with the Central Valley and agriculture.
Calochortus leichtlinii is a perennial herb producing an erect, unbranching stem up to two feet tall. The basal leaf is four to six inches long and withers by flowering.
The inflorescence is a loose cluster of 1 to 5 erect, bell-shaped flowers. Each flower has three petals 1 to 4 centimeters long which are white, pinkish, or dull blue in color and spotted with yellow and dark red or black and hairy at the bases. These color patterns vary widely among different regional and local populations. Lily Family plants are all monocotyledons, meaning that they have one seed leaf. The monocots have long, linear leaves with parallel veins (as in the grasses, for example), with their characteristic bulbs and flowers with three sepals and three petals (or six petals).
The fruit is a narrow capsule up to 6 centimeters long.
Calochortus comes from the Greek words kalos, meaning beautiful, and chortus , meaning grass: a beautiful flowered plant with the grass-like leaves. Mariposa is the Spanish word for butterfly, referring to the evanescent quality of the petals and unique markings on the flowers.
The small underground bulbs were eaten by the Native Americans. The bulbs were eaten raw or gathered in the fall and boiled, and the flower buds when young and fresh. They were eaten by the Mormon settlers during their sojourn west, during the winter and as a result of crop failures.
Native Americans also used Calochortus ceremonially and as a traditional medicinal plant.

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