Lily Hunting

On March 13, when “Ephemeral” posted on this blog, I was on my way to California to see a super bloom of wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Unusually heavy autumn and winter rains, along with cooler than normal temperatures, allowed the growth and flowering of perennials and desert ephemerals in quantities that have been called “unprecedented.”

It was spectacular.

The trip was put together in a big hurry, and not knowing if I would hit the peak bloom or be too late, I tried not to have any goals. “Just be grateful you get to go, and enjoy whatever you find,” I told myself. “No disappointments. No regrets.”

But a little voice inside me kept whispering “…except for desert lily. You really have to find desert lily.” I admit, I enjoy the hunt.

So on my second day in Borrego Springs, sipping an horchata and trying not to wilt while the temperature climbed to 97°F, I drove slowly along an almost traffic-free Big Horn Road, looking for glimpses of silver. Fifty yards or so west of Borrego Springs Road I saw it.

This beautiful plant is a perennial, with a growing season of six to ten months. A deep-set bulb produces a few long, narrow, wavy leaves and a single stem with a dozen flowers or more; the whole plant stands as tall as eighteen inches. Its range is limited to western Arizona, southern Nevada, and southeastern California, in the Sonoran and Mohave deserts.

According to older sources, Hesperocallis undulata is in the Liliaceae; later work by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group put it in its own family, then into the Asparagaceae. Other sources placed it in the Agavaceae. If you search on-line you’ll see it listed in any of these families, but as far as I can tell the most current placement is Asparagaceae. I have no idea why classifying this species has been so difficult.


For this and upcoming posts about Sonoran Desert wildflowers, I’ve relied on the following resources:
San Diego County Native Plants (James Lightner, 3rd edition 2011)
Calflora and CalPhotos
Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association
Desert USA

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