Lilies in the valley
By mid-June the green on the hillsides of the south Okanagan Valley has faded to pale brown. The spring wildflowers, like the Arrow-leaved Balsamroot, Sagebrush Buttercup, Yellow Bells, Bitterroot and the Desert Parsleys, have shed their seeds, the plants have dried-out and most are scarcely visible.
Their color has been replaced by the flowers of summer, such as Blanket flower, Scarlet Gilia, Prickly-pear Cactus, Golden Daisy, and a couple of lilies.
Lilies are a varied group. Onions are in the lily family as is Asparagus but neither looks like flower garden varieties, such as Day, Regal or Oriental lilies. The Summerland Ornamental Gardens has a display of numerous colorful lilies. Most garden variety lilies have trumpet-shaped flowers but in the grasslands and forests the flower shape is often quite different.
There are 20 species of naturally occurring lilies in the Okanagan but only two flower during the hot summer in the sagebrush-grasslands and dry Ponderosa pine forests. Their saucer-shaped flowers with three broad petals resemble a large butterfly and/or a very shallow tulip. Each plant relies on the food stored in an underground bulb for its survival. In early summer a single leaf (leaves of the Sagebrush Mariposa are grass-like, up to 25 cms long and 1 cm wide) arises from the bulb. It absorbs energy from the sun and with nutrients absorbed by the roots forms food that allows the bulb to produce a flowering stem. By late June when the flowering stems appear the leaves have withered away.
The beautiful flowers of the Sagebrush Mariposa (the Spanish word for butterfly) are 4-5 cms across and vary from dark lavender to pink. Borne atop a long, very slender stem the slightest breeze causes them to flutter about. The plant looks top heavy and some stems bend with the weight of the flower to touch the ground. Although a common flower of the grasslands the plants are scattered and usually a meter or more apart. It is found in abundance in the NE sector of Penticton.
The other grassland lily is Lyall’s Mariposa, infrequently called Lyall’s Butterfly Tulip, is not common, is considered endangered and is restricted in Canada to about 15 scattered patches on a few hillsides in the rangeland west of Osoyoos. The plants are smaller and more robust that those of the Sagebrush Mariposa. The flowers open mid-June and last only a week or so and there are often 3-5 flowers on the single stem. Its white petals have a delicate fringe of short hairs and a purple patch near the petal’s base.
The South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club will have their next meeting September 24; call 250-497-6889 for details.