July has been a great month. Most of the days have been blue and sunny, with cool mornings and warm afternoons with scattered showers. The summers of 1965 and 1969 were much like this, and I had very little need to water to have a bountiful garden. It seemed like we had moved to Camelot.
As I predicted some time ago, July has been a fantastic month for Mariposa lilies. Meadows are covered with their blooms. First a few pure, white flowers appeared, then more and more and more every day, all being snow white with black and yellow markings at the base of the petals. But as they grow older, they turn to a pale lavender before they wither.
The genus Calochortus was named from a plant collected on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Calochortus came from two Greek words that mean “pretty grass.” Later, this same plant was collected in Southern California by David Douglas. He sent seeds to the Royal Horticultural Society of London, and by 1832 it had a blooming specimen in its gardens that was re-described by Bentham. He named this flower Calochortus venestus, or as beautiful as Venus. Calachortus venestus grows in Southern California and further south into Mexico. It was the Mexicans who named it Mariposa lily, the Spanish name for butterfly. This is a very appropriate name, for they appear to be hundreds of white butterflies flitting over a mountain meadow.
Although it has been placed in the lily family, some botanists think it doesn’t belong there but should be in a family of its own. This is because the three sepals are easily told apart from the petals and are a different color. Therefore, they are not a true lily. Also, the bulb they grow from is coated and solid. Like a tulip bulb, true lily bulbs have scales (like a pine cone), and each scale can be pulled off to start a new plant.
Farther south there is another Mariposa lily, Calochortus lutea, which is bright yellow and I guess is commonly called the moon lily. There are many other Mexican species, some of which are even more butterfly-like.
The name “pretty grass” is also a most appropriate name, as the stem is thin and flexible with long thin leaves attached to it like grass blades. The calochortus bulbs are edible and were eaten by many of the American Indian tribes. However, the Mariposa lily plant looks very much like the death camas plant. The flowers of the two plants are very different, but I should hate to decide which plant is which unless they were in bloom. Apparently the American Indians were much more skilled at plant identification than we are. The Mariposa lily must be very delicious, or the Indian tribes wouldn’t take the chance of mixing up these two bulbs.
July is at an end, and we have the rich lush month of August to look forward to. August is usually fairly rainy, which brings a sudden growth of mushrooms, but this year many of them have already produced their fruit because of the steady dampness. As we go into fall, watch for the late wildflowers, such as the many yellow composites and the fringed gentians. Monk’s hood is in bloom now in several color phases. The very light blue is to be seen at ground hog flats, and the deep dark purple monk’s hood are very showy in a bit lower places. In every patch of monk’s hood, there are usually one or two stalks of pure white flowers.
By early to mid-August, some of the small land birds begin to move south. Watch for these whenever you are outdoors. Fall migration is an interesting as spring migration, with many exciting birds on the move. Many of the fall birds move in small family groups, and it is a good chance to study fall plumage.