The Mariposa Lily is an elegant little plant….but it’s got some substance! Found in the grasslands and coastal sage of the Santa Monica Mountains, we are at the tail end of its flowering period. Mariposa means butterfly in spanish, and there was a large swallowtail butterfly flying around as I took the photo.
Pictured is the Catalina Mariposa Lily (Calochortus catalinae). They have a delicious edible tuber that is really starchy…kind of like potato or corn. The state flower of Utah is the related Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttallii), raised to that status because of its importance in Mormon’s survival. During the early years in Utah, the Mormon’s were taught by native folks of its edibility, and it was eaten in great quantity.
I have heard that native people in this area cut large areas of grass and then rolled it up, picking out the tubers from below. This method allowed the tubers to be thinned and actually increased productivity. The ground is incredibly dry and crumbly here now, so you must dig the plants individually. There are many endangered mariposa lilies, and I would encourage you to sow seeds for future generations before harvesting the plant. I have only gathered a few handfuls of the tubers. They can be eaten raw or cooked. I would love more information about this plant from readers.