The Chocolate Lily in San Diego County (Fritillaria biflora var. biflora) does have a bit of a “trophy” status for me. It isn’t a rare plant, but it requires a certain habitat — namely, open grassy slopes with full sun. One would think that we still have a few of those, but I can only guess that the many invasive/non-native grasses here have crowded the lilies out.
I’ve been “chasing” the Chocolate Lily in the years since 2019, and I’ve had absolutely no luck of finding them. I always tried at Mission Trails Regional Park, the location nearest to our home with confirmed observations, and went there for three years in a row, which includes the normal winters of 2019 and 2020… but I must admit that it is hard for me to find a flower when you don’t really know what you’re looking for with regards to size and habitat.
Most often, photos tell you about the flower itself, but not about it’s surroundings. Now my photos are no different in that regard, but in my defense: it was a blue-skied, sunny day and I shaded the plants for the photos — but couldn’t shade the entire hillside for a more pleasing rendition of the shapes and colors… :P
Part of my unsuccessful searches so far surely had to do with my timing, of course. Looking at the observation dates in CalFlora, it seemed like I should have been out there earlier in spring to find those flowers in bloom. Last year already, I didn’t have high hopes for finding it anyway (insider the usual lament about dry winters here) and this year, I didn’t even bother to try at Mission Trails anymore.
But lo and behold, during a recent walk at a preserve in the south-western inland areas of the county, we found a couple of them. They were past their bloom and the surprisingly big (and somewhat weird looking) fruit had already formed. At least I knew of a location now! Since they’re perennials, I would be able to find them again there, next year. Just a bit earlier! :)
A couple of days later though, looking to fill some “non-desert gaps” in my efforts to hike the Sierra Club’s 100 Peaks list, I went to the same general area, higher up and further east still, and found more fruiting Chocolate Lilies. The place where I saw them seemed really good and as I kept looking, my eye soon found another one, past peak bloom, then one with petals quite wilted and last not least, somewhat shy and hidden in the shade of a Chamise, one with two perfectly beautiful drooping flowers:
It was interesting to find the flowers in this location in their various stages. The flowers, drooping when they’re open, begin to slowly raise their heads as the fruit inside them forms:
Even past the prime state of the flower, the texture is quite delicate and does indeed looks delicious, doesn’t it?
Eventually, the petals all drop and the only thing that’s left are the strange and alien looking fruits on the more or less tall stalks of the flower.
I could leave it be now of course, but to be honest: I can’t wait to return to this location in spring 2023, and hopefully time the visit better with the Chocolate Lily’s bloom. I’d like to see plants that have leaves which aren’t half eaten. And hopefully, also with one or the other specimen that grows more out in the open, to isolate it better in the photos. ;)
Latin, fritillus means checkered (also used with butterflies, for example Dione vanillae, the Gulf Fritillary), alluding to the markings on the tepals of many species; biflora is an inflection of biflorus, meaning “two flowers” — I guess the one that I saw with two fruits AND one flower on it was an exception to this? :)
- CalFlora taxon report for Fritillaria biflora (includes var. biflora and the rare var. ineziana)
- Jepson eFlora taxon page for Fritillaria biflora var. biflora
- Wikipedia page for Fritillaria biflora