The Tiburon mariposa lily only grows on one serpentine outcrop on Ring Mountain, in Tiburon, California, and nowhere else on earth. I?ve written about serpentine and celebrated Ring Mountain; its mariposa lily is another thing that makes it special. One of the first Spanish land grants in this area, Ring Mountain and its environs were grazing land from 1834 until the 1960?s, when the remaining ranch land began to be sold to developers. I?m sure that the Coast Miwok tribe members, who were displaced by these land grants, knew and had a name for the Tiburon mariposa lily, which was both food and medicine for them. And I can imagine that the few cowboys who came to the top of the ridge to find stray cows would notice the flower but feel no need to find a name for it.
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What is so rare as a Tiburon mariposa lily? As showy as the flower is up close, its modest height, single leaves close to the stem, and mottled flowers do blend in with its grassy, rocky surroundings. It can take some focusing to find them, even when they?re right in front of you. So it wasn?t until the land was being explored for preservation that the flower was ?found,? classified as a calochortus, and given its official scientific name: Calochortus tiburonensis. The species name comes from the Greek words ?kalos? and ?chortus?: beautiful grass. Mariposa is the Spanish word for butterfly. There are lots of mariposa lilies in the west, over 70 species, 28 of them endemic to California. Two others grow on and around Ring Mountain: the also rare Oakland star tulip and the yellow mariposa lily.