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What Is Calochortus?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 15 July 2014
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Calochortus is a genus of flowering bulbs in the lily family, Liliaceae. Plants in this genus have common names including mariposa, cat's ears, fairy lantern, globe lily, and star tulip. There are about 70 species of Calochortus, all native to the western half of the North American continent, and 28 species have a native range limited to the state of California. Calochortus flowers are very diverse, with many different colors, patterns, and shapes throughout the genus. Most species bloom in spring or summer.

Native California species of Calochortus include C. albus or the white globe lily, which features pale, pendulous flowers, and C. amabilis or Diogenes' lantern, featuring drooping yellow flowers. C. amabilis grows only in the mountains of northern California. C. amoenus, or purple globe lily, grows only in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in central California, and has pink to purple drooping flowers. C. argillosus, or the clay mariposa lily, grows only on the coast of central California. Its flowers have three white or light pink petals, each with a spot of red, yellow, or purple at the base.

The goldenbowl mariposa lily, C. concolor, has a native range from southern California to Baja California in Mexico. It has yellow flowers with red centers. C. dunnii, or Dunn's mariposa lily, has a similar range, but lighter colored flowers.

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C. bruneaunis, or the Bruneau mariposa lily, and C. elegans, or the elegant mariposa lily, are both found throughout dry areas of the western United States. The Bruneau mariposa lily features white, pointed petals, each with a colored spot at the center. The elegant mariposa lily has small, greenish white flowers. C. flexuosus, or the winding mariposa lily, is a light pink to lavender flower native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. C. greenei, or Greene's mariposa lily, grows in mountain forests of northern California and southern Oregon.

There are many threatened or rare species of Calochortus. C. excavatus, or the Inyo County star tulip, exists only in a few small areas in east central California. C. monanthus, or the Shasta River mariposa lily, is believed to be extinct. Rare species include C. palmeri or Palmer's mariposa lily, C. panamintensis or the Panamint Mountain mariposa lily, C. persistens or the Siskiyou mariposa lily, and C. plummerae or Plummer's mariposa lily. All of these plants are native to California, with C. persistens extending into southern Oregon.

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