Growing A Mariposa Lily – Learn About Cultivating Mariposa Lilies

By Nikki Phipps

Image by Miguel Vieira

Native to California and the Pacific Northwest, the Mariposa lily is considered to be among the most beautiful bulb plants in the world. Read here to learn more about cultivation Mariposa lilies in the landscape.

Mariposa Varieties in the Garden

Mariposa is Spanish for butterfly, as the markings inside the cup of the flower resemble a butterfly. Also commonly referred to as Mariposa tulip or butterfly tulip, some members of its genus, Calochortus, are now endangered. Mariposa lilies were once gathered in large numbers by Indians for cooking and eating.

The genus name Calochortus comes from the Greek meaning ‘beautiful grass,’ in reference to the flowers and leaves of this plant. The small onion-like bulbs produce slender, grass-like foliage and iridescent cup-shaped flowers in late spring. Reaching heights from anywhere between 1-2 feet tall, these lovely plants can be found in an array of colors that include white, yellow, orange, pink, purple or bi-colored shades.

  • Butterfly Mariposa (C. venustus) is among the most beautiful. This California native offers exceptional beauty with its large, upward-facing white blooms, which are sometimes rose colored as well. Within the center of the flower is a large patch of yellow and maroon.
  • Yellow Mariposa (C. luteus) has bright yellow blooms with fine red-brown lines on its lower portion and a central red-brown blotch.
  • Desert Mariposa (C. kennedyi) is native to desert regions of southeastern California, western Arizona, southern Nevada, and into northernmost parts of Mexico. This species has brilliant, red-orange flowers, and each of the three fan-shaped petals has a maroon-to-brown splotch at the base.
  • Clubhair Mariposa (C. clavatus) is another yellow-colored variety and a conspicuous fire chaser, found growing along dry slopes.
  • Pussy’s Ears (C. tolmiei) is native to the western coast of the U.S. with a delicate mauve color and flower petals filled with exquisite hairs.
  • Fairy Lantern (C. albus) is an unusual species with soft, downy petals that never fully open. Instead, these hang down in a globe-like shape.

Growing a Mariposa Lily Plant

Mariposa lilies prefer lots of sun in well-drained, sandy soil. These are great drought-tolerant plants. Use them in rock gardens and wildflower meadows. Mariposa lilies can also be grown in pots and over wintered in cold frames or indoors.

Plant the bulbs in the fall about 2 inches deep. As these are tender bulbs, they are prone to rotting in colder climates; therefore, mulch heavily to provide winter protection or lift bulbs during dormancy in cold regions.

There is little Mariposa lily care required when growing a Mariposa lily. All foliage begins to die down as the bulbs go dormant in early summer and no water should be given at this time. Watering should begin again in fall.

Mariposa lilies can be grown from seed, but it takes 3-5 years to get a bulb. Dividing offsets is usually the best way to propagate them.