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Calochortus venustus (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)
Calochortus venustus (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)

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Zone
Zones 1-9, 14-24
Full SunPartial Sun
Full, Partial
Regular Water
Moderate

Calochortus

Mariposa Lily, Sego Lily
Liliaceae
Bulbs and bulblike plants, Perennials

Western natives, most common in California. Among the more challenging bulbs for the garden, as they demand the long, warm, dry summers of their native habitats. Sparse, grassy foliage is common to all types, but there are three distinct flower forms. Globe tulips or fairy lanterns have nodding flowers, the petals turning inward to form a globe. Star tulips have upward-facing, cup-shaped flowers, with petal tips often rolled outward; those with long, straight hairs on the inner flower parts are called “cat’s ears” or “pussy ears.” Mariposa lilies are generally the tallest, with striking cup- or bowl-shaped blossoms. Flower colors include yellow, purple, lavender, red, pink, and white. Bloom time for most is spring or early summer.

The most widely sold are the lavender hybrid ‘Cupido’; yellow-cupped C. luteus ‘Golden Orb’; C. superbus, in white, cream, or pale lilac with brown blotches; C. ‘Symphony’, white with a maroon throat; C. venustus, in white, yellow, purple, or red with dark red blotches; and wine red C. v. ‘Burgundy’. One type, sego lily (C. nuttallii), is the state flower of Utah. Look for these at native plant nurseries and from mail-order bulb nurseries.

Plant in fall, setting bulbs 3–4 in. deep and about 6 in. apart in well-drained soil. Naturalize on sunny, grassy slopes that remain unwatered in summer, or grow in containers that you bury in the landscape, and then lift after bloom for storage. 

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