Calochortus kennedyi - the mariposa lily

The most vibrantly colored wildflower of the Sonoran Desert is often missing from spring wildflower blooms. Calochortus kennedyi, the perennial mariposa lily, can remain dormant for years waiting for enough winter rain to soak the ground to the depth of the bulb, or corm. When conditions are right, its vermillion color creates spectacular displays. At higher elevations the brilliant red-orange color is replaced by a yellow form of the flower.

The mariposa lily, named for the Spanish word for butterfly, can be found in deserts, grasslands, and semi-arid woodlands from southern Nevada to northern Sonora. It currently has protected native plant status.

These two portraits of the desert mariposa clearly illustrate the major structures of the flower, most notably the hairy purplish-black spots in the center of the 3-petaled flower. These spots are nectaries that are surrounded by the fringed membrane and attached to the base of each of the orange petals. The female structure, or pistil, rises from the center of the flower with its three-lobed stigma at the top. Purple anthers, the male structures containing pollen, can be seen surrounding the pistil.

The Artists:
Lynn Reves teaches watercolor, colored pencil, and mixed media at the Desert Botanical Garden and is president of the Southwest Society of Botanical Artists. One of several artists illustrating rare and endangered plants of the Grand Canyon, Lynn is also contributing illustrations to the Legumes of Arizona project. Her painting of Calochortus kennedyi is currently on exhibit in Portraits of Nature, which runs through March 30, 2013, at ASU Library’s Polytechnic Campus.

Margaret Pope teaches botanical art at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and chairs the steering committee of the Sonoran Desert Florilegium Program, a program established to preserve and promote botanical art of the Sonoran Desert Region. The Mariposa Lily shown here is one of many of her wildflower drawings that were commissioned by the Arizona Native Plant Society for their poster Sonoran Desert Wildflowers. — Cindy Hartwell

Selections from the exhibit Portraits of Nature can be seen here.


This appeared in the April 2013 issue of The Desert Breeze, the monthly newsletter of the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society.