The green-banded mariposa lily is a striking flower in the Liliaceae family that is native to the dry regions of the Pacific Northwest. I first saw this lily last year on a trip to the Oregon high desert. At the time, I was impressed by its simple beauty and its ability to thrive on parched slopes of Ponderosa pine. But this year, I learned something else: it is brimming with pink pollen.
This past week I was bee hunting with my friends Naomi and Larry Price on their scenic chunk of Crook County, Oregon. We were photographing the bustling activity on the curly-cup gumweed when I wandered off to look at the lilies. Much to my surprise, the blooms were teeming with native bees. After my first few pictures, I realized the bees had bushy pink legs. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen pink pollen before.
The green-banded mariposa lily
The showy purple blooms of the green-banded mariposa lily, Calochortus macrocarpus, are a surprising addition to the thick layer of needles and grasses that characterize the Ponderosa pine understory. The erect stems appear randomly on the north- or northeast-facing slopes at middle to high elevations. The three sepals are pointed and longer than the three petals, and one to five flowers may appear on a stem. According to the Timber Press Pocket Guide to Bulbs by John E. Bryan, most varieties of mariposa lily take 4-7 years to flower from seed.
An amazing assortment of bees, flies, and beetles visited the flowers as I watched. Even after I scared them away, they returned within a few moments to roll in the pink pollen and gather enough for the kids. It was fun to watch.
Other sources of pink pollen
While researching this lily, I discovered that there are a couple of other North American plants that produce pink pollen. Bees foraging on Claytonia virginica, the eastern spring beauty, collect lightly-pink pollen. Another wildflower, Clarkia elegans, has purplish-pink pollen. Some of the pollen color charts I examined used pink as a background color, which indicates that pink is not a common color for pollen.
Honey Bee Suite