Mariposa Lily Tubers

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.

4 replies
  1. sunny
    sunny says:

    Hi Robert,

    I don’t know where. I’m sure you can find someone on the internet selling them.
    good luck, ~sunny

  2. Mark Lanzarotta
    Mark Lanzarotta says:

    What a fascinating article. Undoubtably this was a Tongva Indian staple, there were no potatoes here at that time. I’m dying to taste one! What other local root plants did the tongva use? If you can tell me, I would be grateful! Again, thanks for a terrific article.

  3. Mark Lanzarotta
    Mark Lanzarotta says:

    Oh, I have a question. You are a wild food expert, you would know! Is there anything growing in Los Angeles County that is in the pome family, like service berries or cotoneasters? I do not know if hawthorn trees are indigenous to the area, did the ancient inhabitants have access to hawfruit? I hear they ate nineteen different kinds of berries, maybe more.


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