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Stop and Smell the Flowers

The wild flowers this spring beckon us to take a closer look.

As spring marches on to early summer, it is all too easy to get caught up in the mundane or repetitive duties of the day. Often our routine becomes rut and in our rut, we forget to see what is going on around us. I am no exception to this habituation. Deadlines, appointments, phone calls, emails, etc, clouds the brightness life has to offer. And then like a bolt of lightening or maybe more like a universal slap on the forehead, I am awakened to all the beauty and magic that nature has to offer.

Abundant rainfall in Agoura Hills these past two winters has nourished the earth for a spectacular display of wildflowers this spring, especially the lilies. Not too long ago, I was walking through the chaparral. And although this region is known for its leathery hardy plants and shrubs, given the right conditions, spring covers the hillsides with a few delicate wondrous flowers, two of which have just begun to bloom: fairy lanterns (Calochortus albus) and the Catalina mariposa lilies (Calochortus catalinae). Their name befits their beauty as Calochortus means beautiful grass in Greek.  

The fairy lanterns are often found on north facing slopes in partial shade with globe like flowers heads that nod downward from slender stems.  The globe itself is about an inch across with three delicate white petals.  As with lilies, most of their leaves are basal, growing only from the ground (not on the stem), although there are a few upper leaves.  The basal leaves are long and linear, growing from 8-20 inches in length.  This flower blooms from April though June, and I strongly suggest you gently peel back the petals and see what awaits you. I have been unable to find any medicinal, practical or edible uses for this species, but I would greatly appreciate feedback on this matter.

Unlike the fairy lanterns, the Catalina mariposa lilies, as well as several other mariposa species, are well known for their nutritious bulbs that were eaten widely throughout California.  The bulbs were dug up with fire-hardened sticks and baked in an earthen pit lined with stones. These tasty bulbs can also be eaten raw. 

 To identify the Catalina mariposa lily look for a three petaled white flower tinged with violet.  At the base of each petal is a purple spot with hairs.  To get the full intensity of this flower’s pattern stand directly above the flower head and look down toward the center.  This flower grows on an erect stem 8-24 inches high on grassy slopes with full sun exposure. The basal leaves are linear and thin, about 4-10 inches long. Often times the leaves are withered by the time this flower blooms in March through May. 

Another flower to help you get out of the rut and take you to another world is the chocolate lily (Fritillaria biflora). This is an uncommon flower that grows on grassy slopes, usually 6-16 inches high. The flower has 3 petals that are a chocolaty dark brown-purple color.  Like the fairy lantern, the lily heads droops to the ground as if nodding.  There may be as many as 4 individual flower heads per stem. The leaves grow just above the ground and are oblong to lanceolate, 2-5 inches long. This flower blooms from February into June.

Many other lilies are opening their buds and gracing the grassy slopes of Agoura Hills, but rather than reading about their details, I encourage you to walk a little off the beaten path and escape from your rut to find the magic that nature brings. 

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