Dear All, Diana Chapman has kindly taken the time to provide an introduction for Calochortus so we can discuss it in the week or more ahead. Diana will be taking over the editorship of Mariposa, the journal of the Calochortus Society, and is no doubt working on her first issue and is very busy so I really appreciate her doing this for me and all of us. Please share your experiences growing Calochortus and ask questions you have about this genus so we can have a good discussion. Mary Sue CALOCHORTUS TOW Calochortus are truly the treasures of the American West, for while many other genera of bulbous plants native to the west are also beautiful and well worth growing, the variety of form and color found in this large genus is unequalled. Fortunately, these lovely bulbs are becoming better known, and a few of the easier species are available from commerce. The taxonomy of the genus can be somewhat confusing, and there are areas that are in desperate need of revision. For ease of identification, I will give the following more descriptive approach, grouping the genus into three main categories: Mariposa lilies; Star Tulips and Cat's Ears; and Fairy Lanterns. Mariposa lilies: These are tall graceful plants with large upward-facing bowl-shaped flowers that come in a spectacular range of colors. Many species have intricate petals markings that add great beauty to the flower. These are largely bulbs of lowland grasslands, although some can also be found at higher elevations and in desert regions. Many Mariposa Lilies are adaptable and easy to grow, while the high elevation ones are much more challenging. Calochortus luteus is one of the easiest to grow, and is available from the supplier of Dutch grown bulbs. This is a widespread Calochortus of the foothills of California's northern mountain ranges. It has large, brilliant yellow upward-facing flowers, variably marked inside with chestnut brown. Calochortus superbus is likewise, very widespread, its range often overlapping C. luteus. It has large white flowers, sometimes washed with purple on the outside of the petals. It, too, is easy to grow. Calochortus vestae is a magnificent north Coast Range species with huge flowers appearing late in the spring, white tinted and streaked purple, and with beautiful inner markings. There are populations that have pink flowers, and even some of a deep purple. Calochortus venustus is everyone's favorite, since it has the greatest color range of any Calochortus species. The large bowl-shaped flowers range from purest white to all shades of yellow, pink, purple and the deepest crimson. Most of the Mariposas have a basal spot to the petal, but C. venustus usually has another spot, known as an echo spot, on the outer inner petal that is often beautifully colored. C. venustus is found in the Sierra Nevada and the Coast Ranges, with the more colorful ones concentrated in southern California. The challenging Mariposas include those of the desert, such as C. kennedyi, with its gorgeous vermilion flowers, and the high altitude ones, such as C. gunnisonii from the Rocky Mountains. They can be grown, but take dedication and experience to succeed. Star Tulips and Cat's Ears: These are usually small plants with petals that are either smooth (Star Tulips), or densely covered with silky hairs (Cat's Ears). Whoever coined the common name "Cat's Ears" could not have chosen a more suitable term, since the hairy petals look exactly like the inside of a cat's ear. Many of these species grow at higher elevations than Mariposas, although C. tolmiei can be found on coastal bluffs that drop down to the surf, as well as at elevations up to 5,000 ft. in the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada. Calochortus tolmiei is the most charming of all the Cat's Ears, with its neat petals completely covered in silky hairs. It is a wonderful rock-garden plant, and comes in a range of colors from white to lavender, pink or purple, often with deep purple or wine colored centers. Calochortus monophyllus is found growing in the shade of shrubby thickets in the Sierra Nevada. It is deep yellow, often with a dark red basal spot to the petal. Calochortus uniflorus is one of the Star Tulips with petals that are largely hairless, having satiny pink petals and deep lavender anthers. This species is one of the easiest to grow, and also has a long bloom season. Other Star Tulips include C. umbellatus, C. nudus and C. minimus. Fairy Lanterns (or Globe Tulips): The pendulous, globe-shaped blooms of this group hang down from the stem, quite unlike other species. These lovely plants are usually found growing in light shade under shrubs and trees on sloping banks. Calochortus albus, found in the Coast Ranges, as well as the Sierra Nevada, is a translucent pearly white, although red varieties are also found, the red hue varying from rusty tints to a beautiful deep purple-red. Each arching stem may carry as many as ten or more flowers. Calochortus amabilis from the Coast Ranges is bright yellow, and is commonly known as "Diogenes' Lantern". Calochortus amoenus is a most beautiful rose pink, and comes from the foothills of the central Sierra Nevada. Growing Calochortus Most Calochortus come from the Mediterranean-type climate of the western USA, growing during the cool rainy winter, then blooming in the spring and going dormant in summer, when they must be kept dry. The exceptions are the high altitude species which are dormant in winter, emerging soon after the snow melts to bloom from mid to late summer. Bulbs can be purchased from suppliers, and there are a few suppliers of wild-collected seed. Most Calochortus are easy to grow from seed, the seed germinating very readily without any kind of special treatment. High-altitude species, however, do need a period of stratification, usually in a refrigerator, to simulate the cold conditions they would experience in nature. Most seed should be sown in the Fall, coinciding with the commencement of the winter rains in California. In regions with mild spring temperatures, sowing can occur up until January or even February, but in areas where spring temperatures can be warm the small seedlings can be forced to go dormant before the bulbs have developed sufficiently if they are sown too late. The easier species can be sown and left outside sheltered from the most severe weather, while seed of high-altitude species can be placed in a ziplock bag with barely dampened vermiculite and left in the refrigerator until the seed starts to germinate, at which time they must be removed and sown as usual. Seed that is stratified can take anywhere from two weeks to three or four months to germinate, depending upon the species. Many of the easier Calochortus will mature and bloom in three years if grown well, while the high altitude species and desert species take longer.