A Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttallii) plant found near Kolob Canyons by Zion National Park by LeavXCPhoto by LeavXC

Fast Facts

  • Adopted the Utah state flower in 1911
  • Botanical name: Calochortus nuttallii
  • Common name: Mariposa lily
  • Sego lily trivia: The species of sego lily named “nuttalli” is named for Thomas Nuttall, a self-taught naturalist.
  • Utah Flower Delivery

When the Mormon pioneers settled in what would become the state of Utah, they faced countless hardships, including finding food. Crops were especially scarce due to a cricket infestation. Guided by local Native Americans, settlers turned to digging up the bulbs of the sego lily, a beautiful white summertime flower, to survive. The walnut-sized bulbs could be cooked or ground to make bread.

Over time conditions improved and other food sources became more easily available. But Utah’s early pioneers did not forget those times; to be called a “bulbeater” was a source of pride for some pioneers who had endured the hard times.

In 1911, the sego lily was named the state flower of Utah and its unusual role in Utah’s settlement was stamped into history. Writing in the 1930s, Kate Snow, president of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, noted: “The families were put on rations, and during this time they learned to dig for and to eat the soft, bulbous root of the sego lily. The memory of this use, quite as much as the natural beauty of the flower, caused it to be selected in after years by the Legislature as the floral emblem of the state.”

Sego_Lily_(14182490857)2Photo courtesy of Canyonlands National Park

A perennial, the state flower of Utah consists of three ivory colored petals that open in almost tulip-like fashion in May and June. Sego lily petals are decorated with red or purplish crescent markings and yellow centers at the flower’s base. The flowers, which can be three inches across, grow on a single stem with green grass-like foliage.

The state flower of Utah grows in throughout the state but is more prominent in sagebrush foothills and valleys like those in Great Basin than in the home gardens of Salt Lake, Provo and West Valley City. The flowers flourish in its hot, dry conditions and sandy soil as well as near stands of ponderosa pine.