My all-time favorite Calochortus is, debatably, the “ugliest” member of this bizarre and wonderful genus.
Calochortus tiburonensis, the Tiburon mariposa lily, grows only on the serpentine hillslopes of Ring Mountain in Marin County, California. It’s a crazy looking flower, with hairy pale yellow-green petals that have stipes and flecks of purple-brown.
Calflora.org provides a March-June blooming period, but in 2012, 2013, and 2014 I’ve only found them blooming in mid-May on the sunny eastern slopes in the most obviously serpentine soils.
What really blows my hair back about this flower is that it wasn’t discovered until 1971. Many discoveries/descriptions of new species involve splitting up what was once a monophyletic species on the basis of DNA work or subtle morphology. A prime example of this is Omphalotus olivascens, described in my last blog entry. which was split out from the morphologically-similar Omphalotus illudens / Clitocybe illudens / Monadelphus subilludens in 1976. (Bigelow, Miller, Jr. Thiers, Mycotaxon Vol II, No. 3, pp 363-372). cf Laetiporus phylogenics.
Not to denigrate the fine science behind subtle species differentiation by any means, but the discovery of C. tiburonensis in 1971 was the discovery of something *really new*. Calochortus is a very charismatic genus, filled with plants with some of the most colorful, showy, and in this author’s opinion, objectively beautiful inflorescences in botany. To discover a new Calochortus is remarkable indeed, especially since tiburnensis looks nothing like any other Calochortus species found in California.
The Kew Botannical Database page for this species cites some really mouthwatering academic articles for this species, including one article I really want to read: “The Discovery of Calochortus Tiburonensis” by RC West from 1981. If anyone has access to the Pac. Hort. journal, I’d love a PDF copy of this article!
The presence of C. tiburonensis (and other endemic botannical rarities) helped save Ring Mountain from development. As a result, it serves as an island of preserved biodiversity in a sea of some of the most valuable real estate in the world. Ring Mountain sticks out from its surroundings, and is one of my favorite nature destinations in California.