Gunnison's Mariposa-lily
Calochortus gunnisonii S. Wats.
Family: Liliaceae, Lily
Genus: Calochortus
Other names: Gunnison's sego-lily
Nomenclature: gunnisonii = named after Gunnison
Nativity / Invasiveness: Montana native plant
Edible plant
Medicinal plant

General: perennial herb, stem erect, 10-30 cm tall, simple, rarely with a basal bulblet, from deeply buried, fleshy bulbs.

Leaves: about 3-5, grass-like, alternate, clasping stem, concave-convex, rolled in lengthwise, about 5-10 cm long and 2-3 mm broad, reduced upwards. Bracts below flowers 2 or 3, linear, gradually narrowed, unequal.

Flowers: erect, white to purple, greenish within, often with a narrow, sideways purple band on each petal above the gland and a purple spot below. Sepals 3, similarly marked, usually much shorter than the petals, lanceolate, pointed, hairless. Petals 3, 3-4 cm long, obovate, usually rounded above, densely bearded about the gland with hairs branched and glandular at tips. Gland depressed, arched sideways, densely covered with branched processes, the outermost of which are somewhat united at the base to form a discontinuous membrane. Anthers lanceolate, pointed, longer than the filaments. Ovary linear, not winged, tapering to a persistent 3-parted stigma. July-August.

Fruits: capsule, linear-oblong, pointed, 3-angled, erect, 2.5-3 cm long. Seeds straw-colored, strongly flattened, with loose-fitting coats.


Grasslands and open coniferous forests, in c. parts of MT. Also from NM, e. UT, e. AZ and SD.
Edible Uses

The bulb of Gunnison's mariposa lily is edible, raw or cooked. One report says that the raw bulb tastes like a raw new potato. It has a crisp nut-like texture and a pleasant flavor when cooked. The bulbs can be dried and ground into a powder for making a sweet porridge, mush etc. They were eaten by many tribes, and were widely used by settlers in Utah when food was scarce. Leaves are edible cooked. It is hard to obtain a sufficient quantity of the leaves since they are small and use of the leaves will weaken the bulbs. The seeds can be ground into a powder. The flower buds are edible raw and can be added to salads.

Medicinal Uses

A tea of the plant was taken internally by the Acoma and Laguna Indians to treat rheumatic swellings and by the Navajo to ease the delivery of the placenta. Juice of the leaves were applied to pimples.

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