Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Emerging Desert Lilies Suggest Spectacular Spring in Store for Anza Borrego


One of Anza Borrego's most celebrated wildflowers now emerging and is abundant.

©Bert Gildart: One of the desert’s most celebrated wildflowers is now emerging in areas surrounding us here at Pegleg, a campground within the sprawling Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Known as Desert Lily various people from our campground have surrounded sprouting leaves with circles of rocks to protect them from the many footfalls of local hikers. Their efforts have been rewarded for now emerging are undamaged specimens of what many describe as one of the desert’s most beautiful wildflowers.

Appropriately the generic name of the plant is Hesperocallis and it roughly translates from Greek as “west beauty.” (Greek hesperos, “west,” and kallos, “beauty.”) Indeed the flowers are beautiful and though I photographed one the other morning and posted it on a previous blog, the images here show more fully developed specimens and their most conspicuous features, and that is the fully opened large, cream-colored sepals and petals. Usually sepals are a different color but in the case of many lilies, sepals have become more like petals, and that’s true of the desert lily.

Though the plant is now abundant, individual specimens do not always bloom, requiring a sufficient amount of rain to activate the bulb, which can be buried several feet in the soil. Spanish called the desert Lily “Ajo (garlic) Lily” because of the bulb’s flavor.

Like the glacier lily of Glacier National Park (where I worked as a seasonal ranger), Native Americans sometimes harvested the bulb as a food source. In Glacier, grizzly bears still seek out the succulent bulbs and I have to speculate that when the California grizzly roamed this great area, it might have once sought out bulbs of this or a similar California lily, for bulbs of Montana’s glacier lilies and Anza Borrego’s desert lilies are similar. Certainly local tribes made use of the bulb, just as they made use of the agave plant, a species to which the desert lily is closely related.


Though called a lily, I find from the literature that there is much dispute as to whether the species really should be placed in the family Liliaceae. From botany courses I know that members of the lily family have the floral formula of 3-3-6-3, meaning they have three sepals, three petals, six stamen and three pistils. Our desert lilies conform to this formula, but with the advent of molecular science, taxonomists are finding molecular differences they now believe are more important than morphological features.


Desert Lilies now heralding what should be a colorful spring desert.

Now they say these features reveal that the Desert Lily is more akin to the agave and relegate it to the family Agavaceae. Adding to the confusion, yet others relegate it to the family Hesperocallidaceae, and that’s interesting as this family contains no other species but Hesperocallis undulate, our desert lily. And, yes, yet others leave it right where it’s been, and that’s in the lily family.


Books on taxonomy say that to identify the desert lily, you should look for characteristic long, thin, narrow leaves that appear wavy or undulating, as suggested by the specific name undulate. You can see that feature in my photographs, but literature also says individual specimen might sometimes display thicker leaves with straight edges.

Look, too, for a flower which at times sports a stem one- to three-feet in height. At times, these structures may contain as many as 20 buds, though only a few may be open at any one time.

Some say the flower is similar to that of an Easter lily, and after spending time photographing it, must concur that the two appear somewhat similar. Photos incidentally were made during a strong wind, but my two strobes arrested leaf and flower motion. For depth of field, natural light setting had to be f-32 dropping shutter speed to 1/8th of a second.


Look for long narrow leaves that often appear wavy.


That, however, would not have worked and resulting images would have been horribly blurred. With strobes and the camera set to manual, I was able to change the shutter speed to 1/250 of a second; aperture remained f-32.


Most people, of course, probably care little about the technicalities imposed by taxonomist and by camera buffs such as myself, and are probably looking for a plant that simply adds beauty to a desert setting that can sometimes appear drab. If you fit that category, now is the time to explore Anza Borrego’s spectacular desert. Wildflowers are beginning to emerge and that news is presaged by the desert lily, one of the most beautiful of all desert flowers.



*Badwater, Where An Entire River Disappears


One Response to “Emerging Desert Lilies Suggest Spectacular Spring in Store for Anza Borrego”

  1. Rich Charpentier Says:


    You’re tempting me….but I won’t be getting out there any time soon. I took some great lily photos last year, but you really have these dialed in.

    See you soon!


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