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    On May 17, 1806, near what is today Kamiah, Idaho, Meriwether Lewis collected the first plant of the Calochortus genus, Calochortus elegans, named by Frederick Pursh. Three other species, C. gunnisonii, C. flexuosus, and C. nuttallii, grow in the Four Corners area.

   "Calochortus", from the Greek "kalos", means "beautiful", and "Chortos" means "grass", referring to the grass-like leaves. "Mariposa" is Spanish for "Butterfly" and "Sego" is a Shoshonean word for "edible bulb". With its grass-like leaves and stem and its exotic, vase-like flowers, the various species of Calochortus are favorites among many wildflower enthusiasts. 

    The three species of Calochortus that grow in the Four Corners area are most easily distinguished from one another by the elevation they grow at, the colors and hairiness of the interior of the petals, the color of the petals, and the overall shape of the plant.

   Calochortus gunnisonii was first collected in central Colorado in 1853 by Frederick Creutzfeldt, the botanist on the fatal Gunnison Expedition.  (Creuzefeldt, Gunnison, and seven other Gunnison expedition members were murdered in Utah.  More biographical information about Gunnison.) 

    The first C. flexuosus was collected by Ms. E. P. Thompson in Utah in 1872. 

    The first C. nuttallii was collected by Wyeth on his return home from his first western expedition in 1833; the plant was at first named Calochortus luteus by Nuttall in 1834 but it was renamed Calochortus nuttallii by Torrey and Gray in 1854. 

Most botanists place Calochortus in Liliaceae (Lily Family);
William Weber places them in Calochortaceae (Sego Lily Family).

Calochortus flexuosus
Calochortus flexuosus (Sego Lily, Mariposa Lily)
Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Semi-desert, desert.  Grasslands, shrublands, openings.  Spring.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 27, 2005.

Calochortus flexuosus is one of three lovely members of this genus that are abundant in the Four Corners area.  Calochortus flexuosus grows in the hot, dry areas of the lower elevations of the Four Corners.  Its lovely petals, which range from white to light lavender, have a low band of yellow on their interior surfaces.  Stems flex and bend and leaves are wide and often have a distinctive curl.  Leaves may be present at flowering time or may have already withered.  Seeds are three winged.

Calochortus flexuosus
Calochortus flexuosus
Calochortus flexuosus (Sego Lily, Mariposa Lily)
Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Semi-desert, desert.  Grasslands, shrublands, openings.  Spring.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 5, 2005.

Calochortus flexuosus

Calochortus flexuosus

Calochortus flexuosus

Calochortus flexuosus

Calochortus flexuosus(Sego Lily, Mariposa Lily)
Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Semi-desert, desert.  Grasslands, shrublands, openings.  Spring.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 5, 2005 and April 27, 2007; Cross Canyon, May 6, 2013;
The Shiprock, New Mexico, May 7, 2007.

Calochortus flexuosus shows beauty in bud as well as in flower. Flower color ranges from white to shades of light violet to pink.

Calochortus flexuosus

Calochortus flexuosus

In late April and early May, Calochortus flexuosus blooms by the thousands along many miles of lower Cross Canyon near Hovenweep National Monument.

Calochortus gunnisonii

Calochortus gunnisonii

Calochortus gunnisonii variety gunnisonii (Sego Lily, Mariposa Lily)
Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Foothills, montane, subalpine.  Meadows.  Spring, summer.
Linnaeus Mountain Trail, July 16 (photographs 1 & 3) and Spring Creek Trail, July 10, 2007, Abajo Mountains, Utah.

Look for Calochortus gunnisonii from low foothills to high mountain meadows.  Its broad band of yellow hairs above an elliptically shaped glandular structure on each petal distinguish it from C. flexuosus and C. nuttallii.  It can be sparsely scattered or in extensive colonies.  In 2003 Calochortus gunnisonii had a massive flowering in the Four Corners area: the low slopes of Mesa Verde National Park were dotted with thousands of these lovely plants.  Color is most often white, but the flower can have tinges of blue and pink.

This lovely flower is named for Captain J. W. Gunnison, 1812-1853, surveyor, explorer, and expedition leader who, with eight companions, was murdered in Utah just after finishing a railroad route survey.  Gunnison is honored in many names: Calochortus gunnisonii, Gunnison Grouse, the Gunnison River, the town of Gunnison in Colorado, etc. (More biographical information about Gunnison.)

Calochortus nuttallii

Calochortus nuttallii

Calochortus nuttallii (Sego Lily, Mariposa Lily)
Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Semi-desert, foothills.  Shrublands, woodlands, openings.  Spring, summer.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, June 12, 2005 and Lone Mesa State Park, July 3, 2011.

Calochortus nuttallii inhabits a range between and overlapping the ranges of C. gunnisonii and C. flexuosus

Thomas Nuttall was an acclaimed Harvard Professor, naturalist, and explorer of the 19th century.  (More biographical information about Nuttall.).)

Calochortus nuttallii (Sego Lily, Mariposa Lily)
Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Semi-desert, foothills.  Shrublands, woodlands, openings.  Spring, summer.
Dolores Canyon Overlook Trail, June 19, 2008.

C. nuttallii is distinguished from C. gunnisonii by having a circular gland and a broken band of maroon above the gland  --  as well as by several other minute features.  Petals can be white to lavender.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Calochortus flexuosus

Range map for Calochortus gunnisonii  

Range map for Calochortus nuttallii

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