Featured Plants

An in-depth look at a plant – what makes it special, it’s characteristics, where to find it in the natural landscape, and other notables. Common non-native and invasive plants are occasionally reported about.

Calochortus (Mariposa lily, fairy lantern and star-tulip)

Calochortus (Mariposa lily, fairy lantern and star-tulip)

The native plant on the cover of this Obispoensis is a beautiful rendition of a species of the genus Calochortus. The painting is another of Heather Johnson’s. If you’re seeing it on the mailed version it will be in shades of gray. You can see the painting in the original spectacular color if you go to the Chapter website (cnpsslo.org). Heather identified the painting only as ‘mariposa’ and I’m not going to try to identify it to species. It often requires characters that are not present in the art work such as whether the fruit is pointed up or down. Besides, it’s the genus that’s discussed below.

Calochortus is a large genus (70 species) spread over the western third of the United States. The genus’ range extends north into Western Canada and south into Central America. That said, California has nearly half (27) of the species. Many of the California species are endemic, such as our own Chapter flower, the Obispo star tulip (Calochortus obispoensis). If you note that the species name (obispoensis) is the same as the name of our newsletter, it’s not a coincidence. Alice Meyer (our very first Hoover Award Winner) thought the species name of our endemic star tulip (found on local serpentine, i.e. Cuesta Ridge) was indicative of our Chapter area.

Calochortus is a genus in the lily family (Liliaceae). This large family of monocots is generally easy to recognize by its large showy flowers that often consists of three large showy petals and three usually colored sepals that often can be as large and as showy as the petals. Think lilies and/or tulips. However, that is not the case in this genus as their sepals are small. Like a lot of monocots Calochortus has 6 stamens and a single pistil that matures into a capsule. The genus takes these basic elements and produces at least three very distinctive flower shapes, which, in our area match the three common names most associated with this genus.

A 1998 evolutionary study (T.B. Patterson) of the genus determined that there were 4 evolutionary lines within the genus. Two of these lines correspond closely to two of the common names. These are mariposa lilies and fairy lanterns. In the fairy lanterns orglobe lilies, the flowers are nodding and the broad petals come together at their tips to form a hollow globe-like structure. Petal colors are usually subdued and lacking in conspicuous spotting. Fairy lanterns tend to be found in oak woodlands or closed woodlands.

In contrast, the mariposa lilies produce upright flowers with the petal tips spread apart so as to form a cup. The individual petals are usually ornamented with conspicuous markings. The markings make obvious a large, colored (nectary?) gland that usually occupies the base of each petal. This flower form is very widespread and I’ve seen it in the Sierras and the Great Basin. Flowers are usually arranged as seen in Heather’s painting. Obviously, Heather’s painting is of a species that would belong to this group.

Star-tulips make up the third flower form. This group usually produces less showy flowers with petals that are triangular in shape and of darker colors. In addition, the petal color is often difficult to see due it being hidden by the tufts of trichomes (hairs) that cover the upper surface. The petals are flat and all in the same plain. The flowers are usually orientated vertically so the petals resemble a 3-pointed star. Our Obispo star-tulip belongs to this group. Star tulips are often found in Chaparral or mountain woodlands. For the record, there is some confusion in my mind in the application of the common names –star-tulip and the cat’s ear mariposas.

The last evolutionary line is titled the cats ear mariposas. I’m not familiar with this name and when I tried to google it I got lots of remedies for curing problems with real cats ears. However, the species I know that were said to belong to this group had the mariposa lily flower configuration. The web noted that cat’s ear mariposas are associated with wet lands.

According to the web many of the Calochortus species were used by Native Americans for food (especially their bulbs), medicine and ceremony. One source noted that the bulbs were eaten by the Mormon settlers between 1853 and 1858 when famine threatened the new immigrants to the Great Salt Lake Valley, due to crop failures. I suspect many of the species in this genus would make excellent additions to any native plant garden, especially one that lies dormant and un-watered throughout the summer drought. The problem would be getting material to plant as few nurseries keep them in stock.

-Dirk Walters

Solanum xanti (Blue, Purple, Chaparral, or San Diego Nightshade)

Solanum xanti, Blue nightshade, article accompanied by original watercolor painting by Heather Johnson. Blue nightshade (the name most commonly used around here) is not pushy in its appearance unless it’s in bloom. It is up to a yard tall and the stem is half woody or suffrutescent. The ordinary looking, mostly un-lobed leaves are up to 3 inches long and lanceshaped to oval. Blue nightshade even prefers to grow near other plants and just blend in.

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Salvia spathacea (Hummingbird Sage)

The cover of this Obispoensis is another beautiful water color by Heather Johnson. In our area Hummingbird sage can grow in an extensive mat. Its leaves are large (10 in (20 cm) long and 3 in (8 cm) wide). The leaf surface appears quilted. Its family affiliation (Mint or Lamiaceae or Labitae) is shown clearly in Heather’s water color.

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Vitis californica (California grape)

As well as reddish fruits, this variety of wine grape produces bright red leaves in the fall. Enter DNA to the story. Several DNA studies proved that the cultivar ‘Roger’s Red’ is truly a hybrid between the native California grape and the European wine grape Vitis vinifera var. Alicante Bouschet.

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Clarkia speciosa subsp. immaculata (Pismo Clarkia)

I chose the Pismo clarkia because it grows in the area surrounding Mardi’s home and nowhere else. It grows naturally in about 20 occurrences from the southern Edna Valley, south through the foothills and valleys of the Southern San Luis Range, ending east of Pismo Beach and Arroyo Grande (Huasna Valley).

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Viola pedunculata (Johnny-jump-up)

Wild (California, yellow, or grass) violet, pansy or Johnny –jump-up This botanical illustration was created by Mardi Niles using a Micron 005 #1 Archival Ink pen and Prismacolor Verithin colored pencils on Bristol Regular paper. It will be the first of several...

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Common Milkweed (kotolo) Asclepias eriocarpus

The cover drawing and article for this issue of the OBISPOENSIS was written and drawn by Alice Meyer. She was a very active member (and first Hoover Award Recipient in the 1970 and 80’s. She is the one who named our newsletter, OBISPOENSIS, and served as its editor...

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Coast Live Oak

Dirk Walters, illustration by Bonnie Walters Oaks have been in the news a lot recently. Essentially all of it has been bad from the Oak’s point of view. First, there was the clearing of valley (Quercus lobata) and blue (Q. douglasii) oaks in the Paso Robles area. and...

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Common (White) Yarrow (Achillea millefollium)

Common (White) Yarrow (Achillea millefollium) The plant discussed in this issue of the Obispoensis is one that I’ve wanted to take on for a long time, but could never bring myself to ask Bonnie to draw. Since we are using photos to illustrate it by, I think it’s time....

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Fall Color

O.K.... so we’re not Vermont. However we do have some pretty fall color displays. If you like the gold of aspen, you will see the same colors in our closely related cottonwood stands, both trees belonging to the genus Populus. Cottonwoods are riparian trees, and the...

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Ceanothus hearstiorum

Introduction October and November are when our Chapter gets serious about growing native plants. We have a November meeting devoted to it as well as our annual plant sale. This got me to remembering some articles written and drawings drawn by Alice G. Meyer that are...

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Solidago californica

California Goldenrod (Solidago velutina ssp. californica or S. californica) The photo by Dr. David Chipping that accompanies this note are of the California goldenrod (Solidago velutina ssp. californica or Solidago californica). According to Dr. Hoover in his Vascular...

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Oenothera deltoides

Desert Evening Primrose (Oenothera deltoides) Desert evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides) is in full bloom at Shell Creek as I write this. So it seemed appropriate to resurrect a drawing Bonnie drew back in 1981. It is one of her earlier drawings since it shows a...

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Cucurbita palmata

Coyote melon Bonnie’s drawing for this issue of Obispoensis is based on a picture sent to me by George Butterworth. The species, Cucurbita palmata, has many common names. The ones I found on the web include coyote melon, coyote gourd, desert gourd, palmate-leafed...

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Quercus Kelloggii

Kellogg Oak The following is an article from February 1993. It was chosen by the editor to spare me the choice since Bonnie and I were away in late October. We totally agree with his choice; we had totally forgotten about it. The repeat of this article reminds me that...

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Antirrhinum ovatum

Oval Leaved Snapdragon Drawing by Bonnie and article by Dr. Malcolm McLeod below appeared in the November, 1991 Obispoensis.   When you read it you will see lots of similarities with our current drought situation as well as the much hoped for possibilities of an...

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Cornus sericea

Creek Dogwood For this issue of the Obispoensis, I’m going out on a limb so to speak. Since the plant is a very small tree or moderately sized shrub, that limb will prove to be slender. The plant is the red osier, creek, or as stated in the new Jepson California...

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Atriplex patula

Spear Orache, Spear Salt Bush As I write this article, it’s August in the year of California’s third most severe drought. There’s not much out there in bloom. So I’ve retreated to one of the few places where plants are doing anything. Yes, I’m returning to the coastal...

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Calandrinia ciliata

Red Maids Bonnie’s drawing for this issue of Obispoensis is of a plant that is found throughout the western United States as well as spreading north into British Columbia. It has also been recorded in a couple of South American countries. It is especially common in...

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Valley Oak Snag

We are going back into the archives for this cover of Obispoensis. The landscape is a drawing of the Shell Creek area that Bonnie drew for the December 1991 cover. The inset is an ID drawing of the leaves and acorn of the valley oak. Why would one want to combine...

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Erodium moschatum

Filaree Erodium moschatum & E. cicutarium I assume it is not news to anyone that California in general and the Central Coast in particular has been experiencing an extreme drought. That means that most native plants that are adapted to this situation have been in...

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Vernal Pool with Downingia

Vernal Pools occur where there is moderate to large sized “natural” depression with no outlet. The depression has to be large enough to capture enough rainfall to fill the pond to some depth. The water collects in the lowest point in the depression. There also must be...

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Mystery Manzanita in the Elfin Forest

All three of Bonnie’s drawings this time are of manzanitas. One is a repeat of the endemic rare plant commonly known as Morro manzanita or Arctostaphylos morroensis. As you will see, it is included here to serve as a basis of comparison. The other two drawings are...

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Cynodon dactylon

Bermuda Grass It’s November in a very dry year which was preceded by a dry year. Most native plants are waiting for the rains. The small amount of rain that fell in the last week in October I doubt will be considered significant, i.e., sufficient enough to initiate...

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