White Globe Lily

White Globe Lily © KKorbholz

Fairy Lantern
Calochortus albus

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

  • Monocotyledon
    • Monocots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Lily Family (Liliaceae)
  • Upright, herbaceous perennial
    • Grows from a bulb (short underground stem with fleshy leaves, e.g. onion)
  • Leaves are shiny and of 2 types
    • Single, long, narrow, strap-like basal leaf appears first and lies lax along the ground
    • Additional basal leaves are lanceolate to linear, with alternating, shorter upper leaves along the stem
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a cluster of 1 to several nodding flowers
    • Each flower is a globe of 3 overlapping, white to pink petals
      • 3 prominent, pale-white to rosy-red sepals (outer flower parts)
      • Edges and interior are fringed with hairs
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a distinctive 3-sided, winged, nodding capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)
  • Height to 30 in.
Fruits © SBernhard
Inside of Flower © KKorbholz


  • Native and endemic (limited) to California
    • Grows in yellow pine forests, chaparral, and foothill woodlands
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Grows at elevations to 6,500 ft.

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Wildlife
    • Pollen and nectar source for bees, beetles, and many other insects
  • Native people
    • Ate the bulbs boiled, steamed, roasted, or baked in earthen ovens (Anderson 2005)
    • Some tribes pounded dried bulbs into a flour and ate as a mush
    • See Lily family for more details about how Native people actively managed edible geophytes

Name Derivation

  • Calochortus (kal-oh-KOR-tus) – from the Greek kallos, “beautiful,” and chortus, “grass,” referring to the leaves
  • albus (AL-bus) – from the Latin for “white,” referring to the flower color


  • Geophytes (e.g. plants growing from bulbs, corms, rhizomes, or enlarged taproots) are well adapted to survive fire, our Mediterranean climate’s long, dry summers, and extended droughts
    • Above-ground growth dies back after flowering, while underground the plant survives with stored water and nutrients
  • The first above-ground structure that appears in spring is a long, narrow, shiny, strap-like leaf, often called a nurse leaf, which lies on the ground
    • This leaf adds energy (carbohydrates) to the bulb through photosynthesis before further above-ground growth occurs
    • Flowering stems are usually produced in the same season as the nurse leaf, although in some years only the nurse leaf will appear
      • In contrast, flowering stems of Edgewood’s other woodland lily, the checker lily (Fritillaria affinis), are usually not produced in the same year as its nurse leaf
  • The genus Calochortus includes 3 flower forms
    • Globe lilies/fairy lanterns, with nodding, globe-shaped flowers, of which Edgewood has 1 species
    • Mariposa lilies, with open, upright flowers with wedge-shaped petals, of which Edgewood has 2 species–yellow mariposa lily (C. argillosus) and clay mariposa lily (C. luteus)
    • Cat’s ears and star tulips, with open, upright flowers with pointed petals, which are not found at Edgewood, but grow in the Santa Cruz Mountains, as nearby as the Phleger Estate
White Globe Lily Nurse Leaf © DSchiel
Checker Lily Nurse Leaf © DSchiel

ID Tips

  • When flowers are present, this distinctive plant will not be confused with any other at Edgewood
  • Leaves may be confused with those of Edgewood’s other woodland lily, the checker lily (Fritillaria affinis)
    • Nurse leaves
      • White globe lily nurse leaves are strap- or ribbon-like, long and narrow
      • Checker lily nurse leaves are widely ovate
    • Stem leaves
      • White globe lily stem leaves do not appear in a whorl
      • Checker lily stem leaves occur in an initial whorl

At Edgewood

  • Found in woodlands
  • Flowers March – May

See General References

Specific References

Anderson, M.K. 2005. Tending the Wild. University of California, Berkeley.

Corelli T. 2005, Mar. Green ribbons and bows. Edgewood Explorer.

Gerritsen, M.E. and R. Parsons. 2007. Calochortus: Mariposa Lilies and Their Relatives. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.

Prigge, B.A. and A.C. Gibson. 2013. Calochortus albus. A Naturalist’s Flora of the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills, California. Web version, hosted at Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. United States Department of Interior, National Park Service.