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Sego lily cm.jpg
Sego Lily
Calochortus nuttallii
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Liliaceae
Subfamily: Calochortoideae
Genus: Calochortus
Type species

Calochortus elegans

Calochortus /ˌkælɵˈkɔrtəs/[1] is a genus of plants that includes herbaceous, perennial and bulbous species, all native to North America.

The genus Calochortus includes Mariposas (or Mariposa lilies) with open wedge-shaped petals, Globe lilies and Fairy lanterns with globe-shaped flowers, and Cat's ears and Star tulips with erect pointed petals. The word Calochortus is derived from Greek and means "beautiful grass".


Calochortus produce one or more flowers on a stem that arises from the bulb, generally in the spring or early summer. Unlike most other Liliaceae, Calochortus petals differ in size and color from their sepals.[2] Flowers can be white, yellow, pink, purple, bluish, or streaked. The insides of the petals are often very 'hairy'. These hairs, along with the nectaries, are often used in distinguishing species from each other.

Species list[edit]

This list comprises the species native to North America, primarily but not exclusively to the Western United States.[3]

Calochortus gunnisonii var. gunnisonii

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The genus Calochortus includes approximately 70 species distributed from southwestern British Columbia, through California and Mexico, to northern Guatemala and eastwards to New Mexico, Nebraska and the Dakotas. Calochortus is the most widely dispersed genus of Liliaceae on the North American Pacific Coast.[2] Of these, 28 species are endemic to California.[4]

In 1998, T.B. Patterson conducted a phylogenetic analysis of the genus, dividing it into seven main clades. The study indicated highly localized speciation, so that different clades were strongly linked to specific habitats, as follows:[5]

  • Mariposas: dry grasslands, open chaparral, semideserts
  • Star-tulips: wet meadows
  • Cat’s ears: montane woodlands
  • Fairy lanterns: oak woodlands, closed forests.



The bulbs of many species were eaten by Native Americans. [6] They bulbs were eaten raw or gathered in the fall and boiled, and the flower buds when young and fresh. [6] They were eaten by the Mormon settlers during the first winter or two as new immigrants in the Great Salt Lake Valley, due to crop failures.

Native Americans also used Calochortus ceremonially and as a traditional medicinal plant. [6]


Some Calochortus species are cultivated as ornamental plants by specialty nurseries and botanic gardens to sell. [7] The bulbs are planted for their flowers, in traditional, native plant, and wildlife gardens; in rock gardens; and in potted container gardens for those needing unwatered Summer dormancy.


  1. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  2. ^ a b Dale, Nancy; Flowering Plants of the Santa Monica Mountains, Capra Press, 1986; pg. 28
  3. ^ Gerritsen, Mary E and Parsons, R. Calochortus. Mariposa Lilies and Their Relatives. Timber Press, 2007.
  4. ^ USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Plant Profile for Calochortus Pursh; Data contributed by John K. Kartesz and USDA-NRCS National Plant Data Center
  5. ^ P. L. Fiedler & R. K. Zebell, Flora of North America; 18. Calochortus Pursh, Fl. Amer. Sept. 1: 240. 1814.
  6. ^ a b c University of Michigan at Dearborn, Native American Ethnobotany: Calochortus
  7. ^ Telos Rare Bulbs Nursery database: Calochortus


External links[edit]