Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Liliaceae is a large family, with hundreds of exotic species in cultivation. They include hyacinths, tulips, onions, as well as the true lilies. This family is well represented in the Bay Area natives, many of which have become native garden favorites.

All species are prerennial, but most are herbaceous (not having a woody stem) and die back, after flowering or fruiting, to underground bulbs, corms, or rhizomes. New plants form from bulb division or sprout from seeds, but usually do not begin flowering until about the fourth year, after the bulb has developed sufficiently.

The flowers have 3 petals and 3 sepals, often very similar (in which they are referred to as perianth segments: you needed to know that, I'm sure.) There are typically 6 stamens. The fruit is either dry and cracking at maturity or fleshy in certain species - it is divided into 3 segments. There are few exceptions to the above general description.

 Many native members of Liliaceae can be grown in the garden, keeping in mind their native situations: Allium, Brodiaea, Camassia, Lilium and Calochortus species prefer to grow in open, sunny areas; Trillium, Erythronium, Smilacine, and Maianthemum prefer shaded habitats, and require more moisture over a longer growing period. On Montara Mountain, Liliaceae representatives include:

Allium dichlamydeum
Coast Onion

Allium triquetrum
Welsh Onion

Calochortus albus
White Globe Lily

Chlorogalum pomeridianum
Soap Plant

Dichelostemma capitatum
Blue Dicks

Dichelostemma congestum
Forked-Toothed Ookaw

Fritillaria affinis
Mission Bells
(Checker Lily)

Scoliopus bigelovii
Fetid Adder's Tongue

Smilacine racemosa
var amplexicaulis
Fat Solomon's Seal

Smilacine stellata
var sessilifolia
Slim Solomon's Seal

Trillium albidum
Sweet Trillium

Trillium chloropetalum
Giant Trillium

Trillium ovatum
Coast Trillium

Triteleia laxa
Ithuriel's Spear

Zigadenus fremontii
Star Lily



Fritillaria affinis
var. affinis:
Mission Bells/Checker Lily

Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Flowers: Purple-brown with green spots (sometimes green-yellow with brown spots!), six pointed petals, hanging bell like, about one inch long.

Blooms: February - April

Leaves: Narrow, long, in whorls of 3 -5 around upper stem.

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: Dry trails, Hazelnut Trail in San Pedro Valley Park, San Pedro Mountain road at higher elevations in sheltered canyons on the Pacifica side.

Status: Native - Common.

Fritillaria affinis
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Photo by Bill and Barbara VanderWerf

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Photo by Bill and Barbara VanderWerf

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Further description & Comment: 1 -3 ft tall. A most striking plant when you can find it - you need to look carefully as it tends to fade in the background because of its brownish color. Bill and Barbara were fortunate to find the plant in these pictures standing so clear by itself.



Scoliopus bigelovii :
Fetid Adder's Tongue
(Slink Pod)

Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Flowers: Three down-turned greenish sepals with pronounced purple veins, three up-turned purple petals; one flower per thread-like sprawling stem; foul odor.

Blooms: February - April.

Leaves: Broadly oblong, glossy green with purple spots, 4 - 6 inches long; two, sometimes three per plant; upright or flat on ground.

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: Damp, shady trails. Hazelnut trail in San Pedro Valley County Park.

Status: Native - Common.

Scoliopus bigelovii
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Further description & Comment: 3 - 6 inches tall: It's scary looking, it grows in dark, damp places, it has a foul odor, and you usually stumble across them and scare yourself when looking for the more serene Trillium. What more excitement do you want from a plant?

After "Forked Toothed Ookow", "Fetid Adder's Tongue" is my second favorite plant name on Montara Mountain.



Smilacine racemosa var amplexicaulis:
Fat Solomon's Seal
(aka False Solomon's Seal,
Branched Solomon's Seal)

Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Flowers: Creamy white, sometimes tinged pink; six petals, tiny, in dense branch clusters at top of stem, often in pyramidal formation.

Blooms: March - April

Leaves: Bright green, 3 - 6 inches long, semi-clasping, alternating along stem; parallel-veined, pointed ovals with wavy edges.

Fruit/Seeds: Small berries developing from the flowers, beginning yellow, then turning green, finally red. May - July.

Location: Damp, shady slopes along trails throughout the mountain.

Status: Native - Common.

Smilacine racemosa var amplexicaulis
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Further description & Comment: 1 - 3 feet tall, single stems that grow each year from a ground-level network of creeping rhizomes and succulent rootlets.

The main difference between Smilacine racemosa (Fat/False Solomon's Seal) and Smilacine stellata (Slim/Starry Solomon's Seal) is apparent (I hope) in the pictures: one's fat and the other's slim. There are, of course, substantial differences in the leaves, flowers, habitats and general plant structures of the two species, but in the field it is the chunkiness and slimness that immediately distinguishes the two.

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Common Name Note: The "real" Solomon's Seal is an flower in the Lily Family that grows in the Eastern United States and is of the Polygonatum. genus. Hence the name "False" Solomon's Seal for S. racemosa., probably bestowed by some expatriated New England botanist. This convention of "False this-or-that" appears to be common in Liliaceae (False Lily-of-the-Valley, etc.)

The name "Solomon's Seal" refers to a mystic icon, two interlocked triangles in the shape of a six pointed star (often with one triangle white, the other black) representing the union of soul and body. As an amulet, it is said to ward off fever and other diseases. Supposedly, the upright branch shoot leave this mark on the underground rootstock, which is dug up for medicinal uses (see below). Or it could be because of the shape of their flowers (6 - pointed stars) or because of their medicinal qualities in general, or both, but I'm not sure.

The roots of both species, but primarily Smilacine racemosa, are used in herbal medicines as anti-imflammatories and astringents. The fresh chopped root, cooked with honey, makes an excellent cough syrup. Fresh Smilacine root, ground up with a rock, can be an effective and soothing field poultice for stings, bites, burns, and small localized Poison Oak or Stinging Nettle - Stinging Phacelia rashes.

Can't work any worse than Mugwort.


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