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



Chlorogalum pomeridianum:
Soap Plant (Amole Lily)

Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Flowers: White to lavender, with green or purple veins. Six petals, spidery looking, opening in late afternoon. In loose clusters on branching stems.

Blooms: May - June.

Leaves: Wavy, narrow, up to one foot or more in length, with a ridged central vein. In wide, spreading circle around base of plant.

Fruit/Seeds: In green-black capsules.

Location: All trails, all areas.

Status: Native - Common.

A bee checks out the offering of 
Chlorogalum pomeridianum
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Further description & Comment: 1 - 2 ft tall when flowering, Soap plant is the most recognizable plant along the trails.

As seen in the phot at left, the wavy leaves are distinctive, and its habitat of sprouting in the middle of the trail makes it hard to miss (unfortunately, the ones that grow in the trails seldom get to bloom as they are constantly trod upon.)

The flowers' characteristic of not opening until late afternoon has earned them the common of name of "four-o'clock" is some areas.

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The image above left shows a soap plant bulb on a trail cut exposed by a recent slide. Above right is a detail of the fibers surrounding the bulb. Below left, a different one is split apart to show the bulb within the coarse fiber layers. Below right, our friend from the trail cut pauses for a cup of coffee before being planted in the backyard.

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In late summer through winter, the bulbs, which are surrounded by a pad of coarse fibers and resemble a rough soapbrush, will often work their way to the surface. People often mistake them for some sort of discarded horse brush, patch of fur, or the remains of a small animal. The durable fibers, which are the dried remains of previous years' bulb growth, can be slightly oiled and used to make brushes and small brooms.

The bulbs contain chlorogenin and amolonin, and can be sliced, crushed, and mixed with water to create an antifungal soap or shampoo; alternately, Native Americans purportedly would toss the crushed bulbs into a creek pool to stun fish. This plant's background deserves further study - more to come.



Dichelostemma capitatum:
Blue Dicks

Liliaceae (Lily Family)


Flowers: Pink to Blue, six petals, , pronounced white unforked "teeth" at center, tubular and squat, in tight round clusters on top of tall stem.

Blooms: March - May

Leaves: Grass like, from base of stem.

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: Grassy or scrub trails, open areas.

Status: Native - Common.

Dichelostemma capitatum

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Further description & Comment: 1 ft tall, stout stem - Dichelostemma has looser cluster and more tubular flowers than similar Sea Thrift.

Note - Forked Toothed Ookow (D. congestum) has forked "teeth" in center of flower and more slender individual flowers.

To be honest, the photograph above might be of either a Blue Dick or an Ookaw. The one to the left is definitely a Blue Dicks. 600x450 JPEG - 32K



Dichelostemma congestum :
Forked Tooth Ookow

Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Flowers: Pink to Blue, six petals, strongly pronounced white forked "teeth" at center, tubular and elongated, in tight round clusters on top of tall stem.

Blooms: April- June.

Leaves: Grass like, from base of stem.

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: Grassy or scrub trails, open areas.

Status: Native - Common.

Further description & Comment: 1 ft tall, stout stem - Dichelostemma has looser cluster and more tubular flowers than Sea Thrift. Note - Blue Dick (Dichelostemma capitatum) has smooth "teeth" in center of flower and "stubbier" individual flowers.

Dichelostemma congestum
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There really are little forked "teeth" in the center of the flowers. This was the first flower I actually keyed out with a botanical manual when I moved to Montara, so I always make a big fuss over it. Luckily, I didn't know what a Blue Dick was, or I may not have bothered. Besides, I really like the name: "Forked Tooth Ookow."


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