California Native Plant Society

Native Plants - Photo Gallery

Bay Area Calochortus

By Robert M. Case

I have never forgotten that spring day back in 1958, when I attended a 4-H field day at Russelman Park on the slopes of Mt. Diablo. As I walked along a narrow trail, I noticed a nodding flower of an exquisite lemon chiffon color. I knew nothing about the flower but I took the memory of its beauty home with me and I started a child's search for the answer to that first question that all children have, what is it, what is that plant's name? I had no idea at the time that my search for a name would last so long and carry me so far. The immediate answer to my first question was miraculously easy to find. I went home and quickly found a black and white photo in a Child Craft Nature book my parents had purchased in the 40's. There was no doubt, I had seen my first fairy lantern. The first of many I have seen in the last forty or more years, as a volunteer at Mt. Diablo State Park, a biology teacher for local colleges and as an agricultural biologist doing field work. Since that first find I have had the pleasure of finding and photographing many species of Calochortus in the western United States and Canada. We are blessed to have about a dozen species of this "beautiful grass" in the San Francisco Bay area where I live.

Fairy Lanterns

Calochortus pulchellus (21k)

Mt. Diablo fairy lantern (Calochortus pulchellus) is endemic to Mt. Diablo and surrounding foothills. In late April and early May it can be found in the foothill woodlands of Briones, Mt. Diablo, Diablo Foothills and Morgan Territory Parks. The sepals are usually greenish and "cup" the petals.

Calochortus amabilis (19k)

Diogene’s lantern (Calochortus amabilis) looks much like C. pulchellus but is more yellow in color, sometimes with brown-red markings on its petals. The sepals are true yellow and usually "standout" from the petals. I see it frequently in the north bay area of Napa and Sonoma counties.

Calochortus albus (19k)

Calochortus albus (21k)

The other local "fairy lantern" or globe lily is the white flowered Calochortus albus. This delicate flower is found in the coast ranges and the Sierran foothills. In some areas the flowers have a pinkish tinge. I find this plant abundant in mid spring in the Monterey Peninsula. It is not uncommon in the bay area in moist woodland habitats and in the Sierra foothills at about 2,000’ along State Highway 88 east of Jackson in the first week of May.

Mariposa Lilies

Another group of flowers in the genus are known as the Mariposa Lilies or butterfly tulips. These flowers have three large open petals and three narrow, sepals which are often brightly marked and colored.

Calochortus venustus (22k)

Calochortus venustus (35k)

Square mariposa tulip (Calochortus venustus) is the most common representative in the east bay grasslands. This species prefers sunny hillsides and short grasslands. Its bright white petals with deep red markings make it conspicuous in the late spring after the annual grasses have turned brown. This mariposa, like several others in the genus, displays variation in the color of the petals and marked differences in the markings on the petals and sepals. This magenta specimen was photographed east of Jackson. The shape of the nectar gland or nectary, which lies near the base of the petal is characteristic. In C. venustus the gland is generally square in shape.

Calochortus luteus (14k)

Calochortus luteus (30k)

The golden nuggets (Calochortus luteus) is bold, beautiful and delicate. Like C. venustus it prefers sunny slopes and somewhat rocky soils. And like C. venustus, it is well represented in the bay area and the Sierra foothills. I enjoy insect watching in these open mariposas. Many interesting insect species come to gather pollen, nectar and to prey on the pollinators. Notice the crecent shaped nectary.

Calochortus clavatus (19k)

In the southern Bay Area and in the Monterey area club-haired mariposa tulip (Calochortus clavatus) is a prominent yellow flowered species that resembles C. luteus, but often has brown markings on the petal edges and a brown line circling the petal cup above the gland. In addition the hairs on the petals have clubbed tips and the nectary is round. This photo was taken in Monterey County in May, 1998.

Calochortus uniflorus (19k)

Pink star tulip (Calochortus uniflorus) is about the only bay area Calochortus found in vernal pools and marshy meadows. It has large, light pinkish-lilac to white flowers that are close to the ground. Soggy knees and meadow foam flowers filled with busy bees are part of the memories I have of photographing this flower in early spring west of Santa Rosa.

Calocortus umbellatus (26k)

In the Oakland star tulip, (Calochortus umbellatus) the petals are white with purple markings near the base. This plant is found in shallow soils, the flower is near the ground. I have seen large populations of this species on the southern slopes of Mt. Diablo along the Sycamore Creek Trail.

Calochortus splendens (16k)

The tall, delicate splendid mariposa lily (Calochortus splendens) is a beautiful lilac color with deep red near the base of the petals. It is found in chaparral and on dry, sunny hillsides in shallow, rocky soils. I have photographed it at Mt. Diablo State Park and on rocky slopes near Bear Valley.

Calochortus tiburonensis (25k)

The most edaphically restricted Calochortus in the Bay Area is the Tiburon mariposa (C. tiburonensis). Discovered in the early 1970s, this flower has striking markings and is found only on the serpentinite soils of Ring Mountain on the Tiburon Peninsula, Marin County. The green flower with maroon and yellow markings is quite beautiful but somewhat inconspicuous in the blue green serpentine.

Calochortus tolmiei (27k)

Calochortus tolmiei is one of the group of Calochortus with hairy petals or pussy ears. The flowers are a beautiful pink to lilac and are often low to the ground in coastal areas and in the north coast ranges to Washington. I have photographed it at Point Lobos Reserve, Pt. Reyes and Salt Point State Park.

About the Photographer

BOB CASE holds a Masters degree from San Francisco State University in Ecology and Systematics. He has taught biology and
environmental science classes in many bay area community colleges for twenty five years. Currently he is the Integrated Pest Management Specialist, with the Contra Costa County Department of Agriculture. He is responsible for the implementation of biologically sound pest management practices, including the biological control of weeds.

Bob lives in Concord with his wife and teenage daughter. He enjoys extended travel and weekend jaunts in California to pursue spring, and its bounty of wildflowers. He frequently speaks at meetings of plant lovers (CNPS etc.) and for garden clubs on pest management and wildflower photography.

Photos and text © 2000 Robert M. Case. All rights reserved.



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