Mariposa season

Michael Mace
Thu, 09 Jun 2011 15:32:34 PDT
In my part of California, June is the time when most of the plant world
starts to shut down.  The hills all turn yellow as the annual grasses die.
The native shrubs finish blooming and hunker down to conserve water.  In my
bulb collection, the South Africans have long since finished for the season.
The Oxalis have been dormant for months.  The Romuleas have gone to seed,
the Ixias have faded, the Gladiolus are brown sticks, and the Moraeas are
drying out the last of their seed pods.


At this somber moment, the Mariposa section of Calochortus erupts into
bloom.  Many of these are big plants, over three feet (1 m) tall.  A single
plant can have seven or eight buds, opening in succession over a period of
several weeks.  The flowers are big too; deep bowls up to about three inches
(7.5 cm) across.  The flowers are stippled and washed in color on their
backs, while on the inside they are a fantasyland of colored streaks,
blotches, eyes, and colored hairs.


Small native bees and beetles nestle in the hairs.  When pollen is released,
they crawl up and down the anthers scraping off the pollen like a kid eating
corn on the cob.


At this time I have three species on bloom.  Calochortus luteus is vibrant
yellow with brown markings and orange hairs.  Calochortus argillosus is
white with markings of raspberry, red, and yellow.  Both of these grow
locally near my house, but you won't see them when you're driving down the
freeway.  You have to seek them out along country roads and in county parks,
where they favor outcroppings of serpentine soil, usually very steep
hillsides.  You'll be driving along a narrow road seeing nothing but dried
grass, when all of a sudden there will be a stand of hundreds of flowers
nodding in the breeze.  So you pull over, double-park someplace nearby, and
scramble up the slope.  It's worth the climb.  Every flower is subtly


The third species was labeled Calochortus vestae, but based on gland shape I
think it's actually C. superbus.  One bulb has white flowers with colored
markings, while the other is a deep vibrant magenta.


You can see photos of these three species here:…


Can anyone confirm my identification of C. superbus?


It's very rewarding to go outside when the rest of the bulb garden is
dormant, and see these big colored bowls floating over their pots.  They're
like the finale at the end of the fireworks display.



San Jose, CA (min temp 20F, -7C)


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