Calochortus tiburonensis – Tiburon Mariposa Lily

Tiburon Mariposa Lily (Calochortus tiburonensis)
Calochortus tiburonensis flower interior

My all-time favorite Calochortus is, debatably, the “ugliest” member of this bizarre and wonderful genus.

Calochortus tiburonensis (Tiburon mariposa lily)
Calochortus tiburonensis flower exterior.

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. 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.

C. tiburonensis habitat on the serpentine slopes of Ring Mountain.

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.

C. tiburonensis growing alongside slender goldfields (Lasthenia californica) and blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) in the rocky serpentine hillside of Ring Mountain.

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.

Bad iPhone panorama of the Ring Mountain serpentine habitat looking east into the San Francisco Bay.

See also:

Calochortus tiburonensis – Tiburon Mariposa Lily

Scoliopus bigelovii – Fetid Adder’s Tongue

Fetid Adder's Tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii)
Scoliopus bigelovii

Yesterday, we traveled from Sacramento to Mill Valley to visit the Muir Woods National Monument. While the old growth coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are certainly majestic, the plant we were most interested in visiting is much smaller. Specifically, we were intent on finding and photographing “Fetid Adder’s Tongue” (Scoliopus bigelovii).

Fetid Adder's Tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii)
S. bigelovii growing beneath the coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) canopy. Check out those beautiful mottled leaves!

What a wonderful common name this gorgeous little lily has! I can’t think of many weirder, grosser, or just plain nastier common names for plants. Despite its name, the flowers on this plant are bizarre, delicate, and beautiful, with stunning purple-brown stripes on the petals. The leaves have beautiful deep-jade mottles. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t identify any foul smells from the flower, even though the Jepson Herbarium states that they’re “ill-scented when fresh.”

Fetid Adder's Tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii)
S. bigelovii flower detail.

There’s another member of the Scoliopus genus, S. hallii, found in Oregon that is named, appropriately-enough, the Oregon fetid adder’s tongue. The flowers seem to be smaller, and they’re much yellower. It’d be fun to visit them to compare them in person some day.

Illustration from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, v. 123 (1897-1920).

It was amazing how many people walked by me on the main Muir Woods trail without being in the least bit curious about this wonderful little flower. The rangers were cool — they enjoyed chatting about some of the early-season flowers in the park and were mildly amused that we’d driven to see a small flower instead of the huge trees. My wife commented that she’s becoming “a nature snob,” who likes smaller, subtler trails and adventures instead of super-crowded places like Muir Woods. Maybe we’d have better luck visiting on a weekday, and it’ll certainly be nice when our girls are a little older and we can tackle the more challenging hikes again.

Scoliopus bigelovii – Fetid Adder’s Tongue