Growing Mariposa Lilies: Care Of Calochortus Bulbs

Growing Mariposa Lilies: Care Of Calochortus Bulbs

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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

I want to be the person that gets to name plants. For instance, Calochortus lily plants are also called such picturesque names as butterfly tulip, mariposa lily, globe tulip, or star tulip. All very descriptive and appropriate monikers for this broad species of bulb flowers related to lilies. This is a native plant, but seed catalogs and nurseries carry bulbs in their many cultivars. Even the green thumb free novice can easily learn how to grow a Calochortus mariposa plant, with a little instruction and how-to.

Calochortus lily plants are found naturally in much of the western hemisphere, with the majority growing in California. They rise from bulbs and produce a flattened version of a tulip with widespread petals that resemble a butterfly. This is the origin of the name Mariposa, which means butterfly in Spanish. In warm to temperate regions, these arresting blooms are an excellent addition to the native garden, borders, and perennial beds, and as summer seasonal color. The varieties available include flowers in hues of lavender, pink, white, yellow, red, and orange.

How to Grow a Calochortus Mariposa Plant

Start with healthy unblemished bulbs when growing mariposa lilies. You may also start them from seed, but don’t expect to see any flowers for up to four seasons. Install bulbs in early spring or fall at a depth of 5 inches (12 cm.). Plant them in clusters for a big show or singly as accents to a fuller flower bed.

If you choose to use seed, plant them in pots just lightly dusted with seed mix. Keep the pots outdoors in USDA zones 8 or higher and inside in a cool location in colder zones. Mariposa lily care entails that soil must be kept moderately moist but not soggy. Expect germination in February to March if you plant in fall. After a few seasons, transplant the seedlings outside to establish.

Mariposa Lily Care

Fertilize the plants during the growing season with a weak dilution of bulb food from appearance until April or May. Suspend feeding once the tips of the leaves turn yellow. This signals the bulbs’ dormancy and will herald flowering.

Once the foliage dies back, you can also stop watering until September. Then begin watering again if outside conditions are not sufficiently moist. These bulbs should never be too wet or they will rot, so make certain drainage is sufficient for in-ground plants and pots alike.

In the warmer regions, the bulbs may be left in ground or in pots as long as there is excellent drainage. Cold care of Calochortus bulbs must be taken in other areas. When the foliage is dead, cut it off and dig up the bulb if you wish to overwinter the plant in cooler regions. Let the bulb dry out for at least a week and then place in a paper bag and hold in a dark location where temperatures average 60 to 70 degrees F. (15-21 C).

Plant in early spring after all danger of frost has passed and resume watering until foliage dies back again. Repeat the cycle and you will have mariposa lilies for years to come.

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Calochortus Species, Club Haired Mariposa Lily, Yellow Mariposa Lily


Tropicals and Tender Perennials

Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater

Sun Exposure:


Foliage Color:




USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

Where to Grow:

Can be grown as an annual


Bloom Color:

Bloom Characteristics:

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Bloom Size:

Bloom Time:

Other details:

Soil pH requirements:

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:

From seed direct sow outdoors in fall

From seed winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse

Seed Collecting:

Allow pods to dry on plant break open to collect seeds

Allow seedheads to dry on plants remove and collect seeds

Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored

Gardeners' Notes:

On May 20, 2004, Lophophora from Tokyo,
Japan wrote:

Calochortus clavatus is restricted to California. The type (var. clavatus ) is found in the south Coastal Ranges from Los Angeles County up to Stanislaus County, from sea level to 1800 meters, growing in a variety of environments, including grasslands, chaparrel, and Knobcone Pine ( Pinus attenuata ) forests. It grows in soils that are ultramafic (having very low silica content and very rich in iron and magnesium) to alkaline.

It is a taxonomically complex species, with four valid varieties: avius , gracilis , pallidus , and recurvifolius . C. clavatus belongs to Section II, Mariposa , Subsection 7. Nuttalliani (Glands circular-depressed, mostly surrounded by a broad membrane bulbs with membranous tunics seeds f. read more lat chromosome base number eight.)(Callahan, "The Genus Calochortus" in "Bulbs of North America", Timber Press, 2001)

C. clavatus var. clavatus has bright yellow flowers and, at a distance, could be easily mistaken for C. luteus . It is one of the tallest of the genus, sometimes surpassing 60 cm.

Like most Calochortus, C. clavatus is a winter grower, though it is not very hardy. Some of the varieties are said to do well in cultivation. I will add a rating and more culture info as I grow it.

"Clavatus" is a form of the Latin adjective for "club-shaped", refering to the petal trichomes. The nectary trichomes of this species are dendritic.

White Mariposa Lily (Calochortus eurycarpus)

Often found in masses, white mariposa lily provides a striking foreground standing proud among the grasses and herbs of mountain meadows, grasslands, and open forest throughout the intermountain west.

A member of the lily family, white mariposa lily grows from a perennial bulb with a single grass-like stem up to 20 inches (50 cm) tall bearing 1-5 flowers. The flower features three large white petals each with a prominent purple blotch in the center. Near the base of each petal a small, yellow, crescent-shaped gland attracts beetles by secreting a nectar-like substance. However, mariposa lilies are believed to be pollinator “generalists” and attract a variety of insects including bees, wasps, bee-flies, in addition to several kinds of beetles. White mariposa lily blooms from late May through July, depending on local conditions such as elevation and aspect.

White mariposa lily is difficult to cultivate either by seed or bulb and is not suited for the home native plant garden.


The name actually means ‘beautiful grass’, however it is for the flowers that Calochortus are grown. This is a diverse genus with a number of garden worthy species. For Australian conditions the Californian species such as C. uniflorus are ideal. Growing well in full sun and a well drained soil they are easy as long as they have a dry summer.

Most species flower from early summer onwards, making the ‘bulb season’ longer in out Mediterranean climate.

Calochortus are a bulb native to the Pacific Coast of North America from as far North as British Columbia down to Guatemala. Commonly called ‘Mariposa Lily’, ‘Globe Lily’ or ‘Fairy Lantern’ Calochortus make an interesting addition to the garden.

Calochortus Care

Calochortus do best in a well drained position in full sun and also will also do well in pots. With flowers in early summer and growing to 30 – 40cm Calochortus are well worth a try.

Plant at around 5 – 7 cm apart and 5cm deep. Some species will multiply more quickly than others. A humus rich soil is best and some additional water during early summer is advisable if this a dry period. Like most bulbs, allow foliage to die right back before tidying up.

Propagation is from seed sown in autumn, sow thinly in a well drained seed raising mix, try division of bulb offsets

What Is a Mariposa Lily?

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The mariposa lily is a genus of plants containing 60 individual species. Members of this genus, called the Calochortus genus, belong to the Liliaceae plant family. Mariposa lilies are bulbous flowering plants that grow wild in open woodlands and grasslands. As garden and landscape plants, these lily varieties are hardy perennials with striking spring and early summer blooms. Mariposa lily species originate in western United States and Mexico.

Lilies in the Calochortus genus generally grow to about 2 feet (60 cm) tall. The flowers have a cup-like structure similar to the tulip. Flower color varies considerably between species. One of the most coveted features of the mariposa lily is the variety of colors and patterns inside the flowers, on the inner petals and at the base of the bowl-shaped flower structure. The flowers bloom from spring through early summer.

Of the 60 species, there are several varieties commonly grown in gardens and landscaped areas. The butterfly mariposa lily, Calochortus venustus, has large white flowers. As its name indicates, the Calochortus luteus, or yellow mariposa lily, produces yellow flowers with a dark brown center. Calochortus superbus is a California native with white or pale purple petals. The striking intricate patterns inside each flower create a dramatic addition to a flower garden.

The bulbs should be planted in fall before the first freeze. A spot that has loamy or sandy soil with good drainage is ideal, but light clay soil is usually tolerated. The bulbs are more likely to rot in heavy clay soil and in areas that experience periods of standing water. Mariposa lilies should be planted 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) deep, in clumps. These bulbs grow best in a spot that gets at least six hours of sun per day.

A layer of mulch helps keep mariposa lily bulbs protected over winter. When the ground freezes and thaws, it can heave, exposing the bulbs. The mulch layer acts to insulate the soil, reducing frost heave. The mulch should be spread 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) deep. Organic mulch material, such as straw, peat moss, wood chips, sawdust and leaf mold, or shredded leaves work well.

The mulch layer can be pulled back in spring to give the bulbs room to grow. Planting the bulbs in fall is important when growing mariposa lilies because it provides the necessary cold dormancy period, and gives the bulbs a chance to establish before the growing season. Once planted, plants typically come back year after year, with little additional care from the gardener.

Assessment Summary – May 2011

Common name
Lyall's Mariposa Lily

Scientific name
Calochortus lyallii

Special Concern

Reason for designation
This species is a distinctive, long-lived perennial with a small range in Canada. It is known from only 5 populations in forest openings and sagebrush grasslands in southern BC, near Osoyoos. Plants emerge from underground bulbs in late spring, but are capable of remaining dormant for one or more years. This plant was formerly designated Threatened, but most of the area where it occurs has been designated as a provincial protected area, and the main threats, related to grazing and forest management, have now been mitigated.

British Columbia

Status history
Designated Threatened in May 2001. Status re-examined and designated Special Concern in May 2011.

Whilst it’s delicate in looks, Calochortus 'Cupido' is easy to grow and surprising resilient. This half hardy spring flowering bulb eventually naturalises to form neat little clumps which thrive in sun or partial shade. Give this plant a sheltered spot and a little winter protection and it will grace you with its presence every spring for years to come. It’s magical in a woodland planting scheme with free-draining soil, or if you have a sheltered rockery or stony area it’ll also look great there.

It’s always great to have butterflies in your garden, and now you can enjoy them in flower form! Named after a species of butterfly (Cupido), these delicate fluttery flowers are gracefully feather-weight and almost translucent to look at, and these upright cup-like blooms have dainty wing-like petals in the softest shade of lilac-mauve, so it’s easy to see how this comparison was made. With fairy-garden looks, this elegant Calochortus 'Cupido' plant is a great choice for more subtle planting schemes where it can receive plenty of attention!

Watch the video: How to: Grow Lily Bulbs in Containers A Complete Step by Step Guide