Now that we’re finally seeing a break in the rain, I set out this morning to photograph some of the daffodils on the property.  Then, out of the corner of my eye, a surprise, and very welcome discovery!

Fritillaria affinis var. affinis

This beautiful, unassuming flower was lurking in the shade of an oak at the edge of the daffodils we’d planted on a bank this last fall.

This was supposed to be a post about daffodils...until I found the Fritillaria

I’m fairly certain I squealed, which was fine as nobody was around to see the crazy person kneeling on the ground, grinning from ear to ear, scrutinizing what probably looked like nothing more than a generic clump of weeds to a passer by.

This Fritillaria is growing among the grasses in the shade of an oak tree

It’s difficult to put into words just how excited I was to find this flower.  I’ve personally never seen a Fritillaria growing in the wild, let alone growing wild on our own property!  I think I had a grin that would rival the Cheshire Cat’s all the way back to my office.

Fritillaria affinis var. affinis

Fritillaria affinis, also known as Checker Lily, or Mission Bells, is native to the west coast of North America from California to British Columbia, and eastward to Idaho.

Fritillarias grow from bulbs, similar to our native Calchortus discovered here last year.

Non-blooming plants often can be identified by the presence of an ovate ‘bulb leaf’. A few such leaves were near the base of this blooming stem, hopefully a sign of future Fritillaria to come.

Non blooming plants may have an ovate to elliptical 'bulb-leaf'

The leaves on the stems of blooming Fritillaria affinis are lanceolate, in whorls at the base of the stem, and becoming sparse and single toward the tip.

The lanceolate leaves of Fritillaria affinis

Typically growing in oak scrub and grasslands, Fritillaria affinis can be highly variable in color and form.  The bell-shaped, nodding flowers may be brownish-purple with yellow mottling, to yellow-green with purple mottling. [1] This specimen was much more yellow-green overall with minimal dark mottling.

Fritillaria affinis var. affinis

The flowers of Fritillaria affinis consist of six perianth segments, each of which contains a nectary. [2] As an early blooming pollen and nectar source, I suppose I shouldn’t have been all that surprised when this native bee appeared in front of the lens…

This native bee (mining bee?) seemed as excited to find this flower as I was!

We haven't yet identified this species of bee. The abdomen is nearly black, with copper-orange colored hairs on the thorax

This bee seemed more interested in nectar than pollen

I searched carefully in this area to see if I could find more Fritillarias blooming, but I only found one other, albeit damaged, specimen growing nearby.  Apparently deer like to eat the buds from these flowers, so these blooms may not last for long.

The stem of this Fritillaria is nearly snapped, and the buds are unlikely to open

The leaves of this Fritillaria were nibbled too

The roots of Fritillaria affinis have long been known as an important food resources for many native peoples of the west including the Okanagon, Salish, Shuswap, and Thompson. [3]

This Fritillaria was growing in an area that we’ve invested countless hours over the last few years diligently removing invasive French Broom.  There are still occasional broom seedlings that sprout after the rains, but they’re now relatively easy to keep under control.

Unopened bud of Fritillaria affinis

There’s a certain sense of self-satisfaction that comes from seeing a truly wild native plant re-appear in area that was once completely infested with invasive non-natives.  Hopefully we’ll find even more Fritillaria blooming in the same area next year.

[1] Hickman, James C., editor. 1993. The Jepson Manual Higher Plants of California

[2] Fiedler, P.L. and Watters, C. M. Rare Lilies of California. 1996 California Native Plant Society

[3] Daniel E. Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotanical Database