Globe Lilies for the Garden

The diminutive globe lilies can hardly be equaled for their delicacy and distinctive bearing. Native to woodlands and forests in California, several have proven adaptable to gardens, in shade or part shade, and less demanding than their cousins, the tall mariposas. All are in the genus Calochortus.

Globe lilies should be planted where their dainty shapes and colors can be appreciated. They add sparkle to shady borders and wooded areas and are suitable companions for other shade-loving native plants such as disporums, heucheras, and some irises. They also can be used with nonnative shade plants such as violets, low campanulas, and primroses. With good drainage they may be watered throughout the year, and if organic materials are added to the soil, they should make vigorous growth.

The shape of the flowers divides the small Calochortus species into two groups. In the first are four species of globe lilies or fairy lanterns (including C. amabilis) with nodding, globe-shaped flowers. In the second are ten species of star tulips and cat’s ears, all with cup-shaped flowers. Plants in both groups are of low stature, generally from a few inches to a foot tall, sometimes branched, and with a long, glossy basal leaf that may rise above the flower stem but more typically lies flat on the ground. Dainty flowers occur in pearly white and several shades of yellow, as well as lavender, lilac, and rose. Dark, irregularly shaped seeds develop in large, nodding, three-sectioned capsules.


Golden  globe lily  (Calochortus  amabilis).  Drawing by  Kristin Jakob

Golden globe lily (Calochortus amabilis). Drawing by Kristin Jakob

Calochortus amabilis
golden globe lily, golden fairy lantern

Golden globe lily is a stout, branched plant with bright yellow flowers that are triangular in outline. The fringed petals are surrounded by pointed sepals. An enchanting effect is achieved by combining this globe lily with the violet blue-flowered Iris macrosiphon.

High shade, humusy soil, and low to moderate water generally meet its needs, although full sun in gravelly soil with little organic matter works well in cooler locations. Golden globe lily can be planted in shady dry borders, as well as in rock gardens and raised beds. It blooms in spring or early summer.

Golden globe lily is found in loamy soils and on brushy slopes or in open woodlands in the North Coast Ranges from Solano and Marin counties to Humboldt County. In Colusa County, it grows in hot openings in chaparral on serpentine soil.