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ISLAND WILD: Black lilly a stunning wildflower

During the second half of May, wild plant enthusiasts converge on streambanks and estuaries, searching for their annual glimpse of the native black lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis).

This brownish-purple to nearly-black wildflower with gold streaks, golden anthers and a flaring, bell-like shape, is a shining star of the wild lily tribe, which also includes the chocolate, camas and tiger lilies.

Fond as it is of tidal marshes, the perennial beauty may be found on Campbell River estuary’s grassy islets, and alongside Black Creek Estuary Trail. Though not locally common, this visual stunner is absolutely worth the hunt, as sunlight streaming through the petals creates an image of extraordinary beauty.

Since prehistoric times, the lily’s bulblets, resembling clusters of white rice, were an important food for Native groups, and reason enough for the common names: northern rice-root, Indian rice or Eskimo potato.

Black lily is often confused with chocolate lily (Fritillaria lanceolata), a very similar species sometimes referred to as ‘checker lily’ due to its checkered petals. The roots of chocolate lily were also eaten by Native groups, although they do not taste at all like chocolate.

Should black and gold be your wildflower palette of choice, head down to Myrt Thompson Trail or Black Creek Estuary Trail to see this amazing lily, but don’t delay, for these delicate blooms tend to be short-lived.

While the black lily grows sporadically from Alaska to Oregon, along the coast, it should be regarded as rare and left undisturbed.

 

E-mail Christine at: wildernesswest@shaw.ca.

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