Today’s Botany Photo of the Day was taken by Friend of the Garden Ian Gillam. He grows the flowers under cover at his Vancouver home. Steve Coughlin wrote the entry.
Calochortus, a genus of over 70 herbaceous species, derives its name from the Greek for "beautiful grass". The genus is a member of the lily family, and is renowned for its showy flowers, which rest elegantly atop single stems that rise from perennial bulbs. Calochortus species all have a single basal leaf, inflorescence-supporting bracts, and a perianth composed of three sepals and three petals. These petals and sepals vary from each other in terms of size and colour, and, in this, Calochortus is unique among members of Liliaceae. Though its occurrence seems to be centered in California, where 40 species grow in the wild, Calochortus is in fact quite widely distributed along the western coast of North America, extending from the southern parts of British Columbia through to the northern tip of Guatemala and as far east as the Dakotas. One species, Calochortus nuttallii, is the state flower of Utah.
Calochortus superbus —the species featured in the striking chiaroscuro of today’s photo—was first collected in California’s Yosemite Valley in the early years of the 20th century. This non-invasive species—commonly called the superb mariposa lily—is endemic to California, where it grows in open meadows, valley grasslands, and foothill woodlands. Generally reaching a height of 40-60 centimetres, C. superbus flowers in late spring and early summer, and enjoys full sun and well-drained soil. Though the plant goes dormant in the summer, it is hardy to zones 7 through 11 and can survive at fairly high altitudes as well (up to 2400 metres). The stems generally bear 1 to 3 upright flowers that take the shape of a small cup; each of the overlapping petals is blotched at the base with a chevron of deep purple or brown surrounded by vivid yellow, though the species exhibits a broad diversity of colour. The exterior of the petals is generally the same colour as the interior, and, as if to pique the curiosity of passersby, it displays a faint, alluring shadow of the intricate internal design.
Gerriten, Mary and Ron Parsons. Calochortus: Mariposa Lilies and their Relatives. Portland: Timber Press, 2007.