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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Mariposa Lily (Calochortus nuttallii)

Only the row of western North Dakota counties including and directly south of McKenzie can boast the occurrence of the gorgeous mariposa lily. Elsewhere, the species ranges from northern Montana to Nebraska and California.

Mariposa lily is a slender perennial that grows up to 20 inches tall from an onion-like bulb. The few narrow leaves are about 2 to 10 inches long. General flower color is white, but each of the petals has a dark purple base. When fully spread, the flowers are up to three inches wide. Seed capsules are orangish, and about 1 inch long.

Look for mariposa lily around the lower slopes of hills. Plants seem to be less abundant where grazing is heavy, probably because of greater chances of physical damage through trampling, rather than to consumption by livestock. The bulbs of this and other members of the genus were boiled, or roasted and pounded into flour for porridge, by the Cheyenne and other tribes of native Americans.

This plant is a member of the lily family (Liliaceae). The family contains other edibles like garlic, onion, and asparagus, but also the poisonous death camas and hellebore. The generic name Calochortus was compounded from the Greek calos, "beautiful," and chortos, "grass," in reference to the flowers and leaves. The specific epithet was dedicated in 1852 to the great English botanist Thomas Nuttall (1796-1859) by the eminent chemist-physician-botanist at Columbia, John Torrey (1796-1873).

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