Mariposa Lily: an Indigenous Food Crop Reborn

In open agriculture, indigenous crops take their rightful place as efficient water farmers on dry hillsides. One of the most beautiful of these crops is the mariposa lily. In most parts of its range, it is a white lily, with a dark centre, but here it has a colour all of its own …

Mariposa Lily with a Green Sweat Bee, Bella Vista

This plant maintained early Mormon settlers in Utah during through catastrophic years of crop failure and hordes of grasshoppers. It was a staple of the Sylix, here on the northern edge of Plateau culture.

By mid-summer, once they have farmed the water that is moving through the ecosystem of the hills, mariposa lilies look like this…

Mariposa Lilies

Their seeds scatter at the lightest brush of their pods.

These plants are hardy perennials, with low water requirements, which fall in the wettest months of the year. They have trouble seeding themselves in mats of cheatgrass, but even on cheatgrass slopes, they readily find vole gardens to sprout in, and do very well when planted out as bulbs. In fact, many varieties are commercially available as landscape flowers. They are also well-suited to extreme drought conditions. The bulbs have a mechanism by which their roots flex and lower them to the optimal depth (about fifteen centimetres down). Once established, they last for years. If you don’t eat them, of course! Mariposa lily bulbs are starchy, and not unlike potatoes. The seedpods taste similar to fresh peas. They can be confused with death camas, so have a positive identification. Because of their perennial nature, mariposa lilies can be grown as a starch bank, to be used in years of need, and then slowly built up again in years of plenty. This is a plant that could support an agricultural industry supplying indigenous food crops, as healthy alternatives for the growing North American indigenous population.

 

They would fetch a pretty price and create a lot of culinary excitement. What’s more, with the renewing capacity of fire removed from the hillsides, extensive replanting would be of tremendous benefit to the ecosystem, especially to its most beautiful bees but also to the honey industry as a whole, and your neighbourhood vole would love you. Hey, love is good, right?

 

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