plants of the florilegium

Calochortus kennedyi
Desert mariposa

FAMILY:  Liliaceae — Lily family

ETYMOLOGY:  The genus name Calochortus derives from two Greek words, kalos, meaning beautiful, and chortus, or grass.

The species was first described and named by Thomas Conrad Porter (Botanical Gazette, 1877) from a plant collected in Kern County, CA by William L. Kennedy. Dr. J.T. Rothrock requested that Porter name the species after Kennedy.

The common name, Desert mariposa, is from the Spanish word mariposa, or butterly.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE:  Found from NV, southern CA, southern AZ, into Sonora, Mexico

HABITAT:  Dry soil in open areas, grasslands, and rocky slopes below 5000'


DESCRIPTION:  Perennial plants to 16" tall that grow from an underground bulb, or corm. They are usually scattered in occurence but may also grow in colonies.

Flowers, 2-4" in diameter", can occur singly or in clusters. They resemble small tulips, with three petals ranging in color from brilliant vermillion to vivid yellow and red. Each petal has a blackish spot at its base that is actually a gland, or nectary, surrounded by a fringed membrane that is characteristic of the genus Calochortus. The female structure, or pistil, rises from the center of the flower with a three-lobed stigma at the top. Purple anthers, the male structures containing pollen, surround the pistil.

Thin, waxy grayish green leaves are 3-8" long. Basal leaves grow directly from the corm, with additional leaves growing from the stem.

Stems are normally short and erect, but when growing near shrubs that can serve as support, stems can elongate to grow up through the shrub's branches.

Desert mariposa can remain dormant for years waiting for enough winter rain to soak the ground to the depth of the corm.

The corms were a food staple among native peoples in the American West. Mature corms were eaten (raw or roasted), and smaller ones cultivated.