kids encyclopedia robot

Calochortus facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts

Quick facts for kids
Sego lily cm.jpg
Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttallii)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Liliaceae
Subfamily: Calochortoideae
Genus: Calochortus
Type species
Calochortus elegans
  • Cyclobothra D.Don
  • Mariposa (Alph.Wood) Hoover

Calochortus is a genus of flowering plants in the lily family. The group includes herbaceous, perennial and bulbous species, all native to North America (primarily the Western United States).

The genus Calochortus includes mariposas (or mariposa lilies) with open wedge-shaped petals, globe lilies and fairy lanterns with globe-shaped flowers, and cat's ears and star tulips with erect pointed petals. The word Calochortus is derived from Greek and means "beautiful grass".


Calochortus produce one or more flowers on a stem that arises from the bulb, generally in the spring or early summer. Unlike most other Liliaceae, Calochortus petals differ in size and color from their sepals. Flowers can be white, yellow, pink, purple, bluish, or streaked. The insides of the petals are often very 'hairy'. These hairs, along with the nectaries, are often used in distinguishing species from each other.

Calochortus gunnisonii gunnisonii crop
Calochortus gunnisonii var. gunnisonii
Calochortus subalpinus 3138f
Calochortus subalpinus
Calochortus gunnisonii, Teller County, CO
Calochortus gunnisonii, Teller County, CO

Distribution and habitat

The genus Calochortus includes approximately 70 species distributed from southwestern British Columbia, through California and Mexico, to northern Guatemala and eastwards to New Mexico, Nebraska and the Dakotas. Calochortus is the most widely dispersed genus of Liliaceae on the North American Pacific Coast. Of these, 28 species are endemic to California.

In 1998, T.B. Patterson conducted a phylogenetic analysis of the genus, dividing it into seven main clades. The study indicated highly localized speciation, so that different clades were strongly linked to specific habitats, as follows:

  • Mariposas: dry grasslands, open chaparral, semideserts
  • Star-tulips: wet meadows
  • Cat's ears: montane woodlands
  • Fairy lanterns: oak woodlands, closed forests.



The bulbs of many species were eaten by Native Americans. These bulbs were eaten raw or gathered in the fall and boiled, and the flower buds when young and fresh. They were eaten by the Mormon settlers between 1853 and 1858 when famine threatened new immigrants in the Great Salt Lake Valley, due to crop failures.

Native Americans called Calochortus "sego". They used it as food, in ceremonies and as a traditional medicinal plant.


Some Calochortus species are cultivated as ornamental plants by specialty nurseries and botanic gardens to sell. The bulbs are planted for their flowers, in traditional, native plant, and wildlife gardens; in rock gardens; and in potted container gardens for those needing unwatered Summer dormancy.

kids search engine
Calochortus Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.