If you see a butterfly, you might want to look again. It might be a Mariposa Lily! Mariposa Lilies get their name from the Spanish word for butterfly, “mariposa”. The flowers look like butterflies when they wave in the wind. The scientific genus name “Calochortus” means “beautiful grass”. Since 17 types of Mariposa Lilies can be found in LA County, their habitats are highly varied. Mariposa Lilies can be found in all of LA County’s Significant Ecological Areas (SEA), except for the coastal SEAs. They can grow in salt pans in the Antelope Valley, higher elevations in the San Gabriel Mountains, woodlands in Santa Monica Mountains, dry lake beds, and rocky soils.


67 species of Mariposa Lilies in the world

44 species found in California

28 out of 44 are only only in California

17 types (15 species) are only found in LA County, 8 are rare

  • Calochortus albus
  • Calochortus catalinae—RPR 4.2
Catalina Mariposa Lily (Calochortus catalinae)
  • Calochortus clavatus var. clavatus—RPR 4.3
  • Calochortus clavatus var. gracilis—RPR 1B.2
Slender Mariposa Lily (Calochortus clavatus var. gracilis)
  • Calochortus clavatus var. pallidus
  • Calochortus fimbriatus—RPR 1B.3
  • Calochortus flexuosus
  • Calochortus invenustus
  • Calochortus kennedyi var. kennedyi
Desert Mariposa Lily (Calochortus kennedyi var. kennedyi)
  • Calochortus luteus
  • Calochortus palmeri var. palmeri—RPR 1B.2
  • Calochortus plummerae—RPR 4.2
  • Calochortus simulans
  • Calochortus splendens
Splendid Mariposa Lily (Calochortus splendens)
  • Calochortus striatus—RPR 1B.2
Alkali Mariposa Lily (Calochortus striatus)
  • Calochortus venustus
Butterfly Mariposa Lily (Calochortus venustus)
  • Calochortus weedii var. intermedius—RPR 1B.2

We may not see the full presence of Mariposa Lilies, as they do not flower every year. The blooms you see are about 10% of the number of Mariposa Lily plants. Some Mariposa Lilies are “firechasers”. A wildfire event can bring out more Mariposa Lilies than before. This is because the hot soil during a wildfire contracts and shatters the bulbs (roots) into fragments. Those fragments become individual plants. The bulbs of Mariposa Lilies have also been an important food source for Native Americans.

Here are some factors that can threaten the Mariposa Lily: decrease of habitats, collections (digging, picking), fuel modification done incorrectly or at wrong time of the year, non native plants, development, and foot traffic.


References and Pictures: Joe Decruyenaere