Calochortus catalinae are spring-blooming bulbs native to Southern California near the coast - they are named after Catalina Island, where they are plentiful, though threatened by development. They grow here in the Santa Monica Mountains of Topanga and Malibu, and they're in bloom right now.
The name calochortus is from the Greek and means "beautiful grass," because their habitat is grassy meadows. California has 28 Calochortus species that are native to the state. The blooms are in colors ranging from white to yellow to pink. Their common name is Mariposa Lily.
I photographed these flowers this past weekend, while hiking the Backbone Trail up the west side of Old Topanga Canyon. The Backbone Trail is a series of connecting trails that go all the way through the Santa Monica Mountains from Will Rogers State Park to Point Mugu. This section of it starts by crossing the creek along Old Topanga Road, and then a narrow trail rises steeply through grasslands.
Along the sides of the trail, tall yellow stalks of mustard are blooming. Mustard is a non-native weed, but it has naturalized here. It's funny how it grows alongside the trail - I imagine that hikers spread the seeds which cling to our clothes as we walk.
Another flower that's blooming now in grassy meadows are blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium bellum, and Lupines - California's version of the Texas Bluebonnet.
The trail dips into cool oak groves, skirting massive tumbled rocks, climbs even more steeply, and then comes upon a vast grassy hill.
Atop this hill, you can see across the canyon. And up here, dotting the grass, calochortus blossoms sway in the breeze.
Calochortus catalinae are rare flowers that are in danger of disappearing. They are included in the California Native Plant Society's list of endangered plants. It is threatened by both residential and agricultural development. The plants that grow here in Topanga are on lands protected by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
For those who want to see Mariposa Lilies blooming but aren't up for a strenuous hike, you can also find them in Red Rock Canyon Park. The side trail named after a local Boy Scout that crosses the creek climbs gently through grasslands full of the blossoms.
There is something so amazing about finding such a beautiful and rare plant in its natural habitat. We can only hope that they will continue to bloom in our mountains.