The Sonoran Desert Florilegium

plants of the florilegium

Hesperocallis undulata
Ajo lily

FAMILY:  Liliaceae — Lily family

OTHER COMMON NAMES:  Desert lily

ETYMOLOGY:  The name of the genus Hesperocallis is derived from two Greek words, hesperos, 'of the evening' or 'of the west', and kallos, or beauty.

Undulata, the specific epithet, is taken from the Latin word undulatus, meaning 'wavy', a reference to the wavy margins of the plant's leaves.

The common name, Ajo lily, refers to the garlic flavor of the plant's edible bulb (ajo is Spanish for garlic).

DESCRIPTION:  In spring, during years when fall and winter rains have soaked the loose sandy desert soil, the long leaves and lovely white trumpet-shaped flower of the ajo lily are likely to emerge from its deeply buried bulb. Sometimes buried as deeply as two feet underground, the bulb will remain dormant in years when it does not receive enough moisture.

The 2-3" long flower petals are fused at the base forming a tube. Their green midvein is displayed as they separate and flare outward toward the end. The flower grows on the top part of an unbranched stem that is usually 1' or less in height. In very wet years, the spikes may grow to 3' or more. Located at the base of the stem, the few narrow bluish green leaves with undulating margins can grow up to 20' long. Opening at night, flowers attract their primary pollinator, the hawk moth, with their sweet fragrance.

The ajo lily blooms from February through April at elevations below 2,000'.