In as much as we have been honoring the Mormon Pioneers who settled in Utah, it might be appropriate to talk about the plants they used and the heritage associated with them.
The sego lily is the Utah state flower. It was adopted by the State Legislature in 1911. The sego lily is a beautiful member of the lily family and in most states outside of Utah it bears the name mariposa lily. The name comes from the early Spanish explorers who thought the beautiful flowers covering the mountainside looked like butterflies, mariposa being the Spanish name for butterfly.Capt. Howard J. Stansbury classified the sego lily as Calorchortus lutens. The genus name Calorchortus is derived from two Greek words - Kalos, which means beautiful, and chortus, which means grass (since the plant has a very slender stem and grasslike leaves). The species name was later changed to nuttallii in honor of the great American naturalist, Thomas Nuttall, who helped people learn about this beautiful flower.
There are about 30 species of the mariposa or calochortus lilies. All of them have beautiful hues, decorative patterns and color combinations reminiscent of butterflies.
The pioneers who entered the Salt Lake Valley didn't plant crops until the end of July, consequently harvests were sparse and food was limited.
The conditions were described by an early pioneer, Elizabeth Huffaker: "In the spring of 1848, our food was gone. My husband had killed some wild game and by means of salt brought from the lake I was able to dry and preserve enough to keep us from starving. Along in the month of April we noticed all the foothills were one glorious flower garden. The snow had gone, the ground was warm. We dug thousands of sego roots for we heard that the Indians had lived on them for weeks and months. We relished them and carried them home in bucketfuls. How the children feasted on them, particularly when they were dried for they tasted like butternuts."
The bulb she was describing is a deep bulb, somewhat smaller than a walnut. It grows in hard, dry ground in the foothills of Salt Lake City and other valleys throughout the Western United States. The bulbs can be eaten raw, boiled or roasted, but obviously should not be dug for consumption because of the scarcity of the plant.
On March 18, 1911, Gov. William Spry signed the legislative act that made the sego lily the Utah State Flower. The 32-word law is said to be the shortest bill ever passed by the Utah Legislature. It is refreshing to know that even politicians can agree on beautiful flowers.
Unfortunately, modern times have made life difficult for the sego lily. Although I've seen them bloom in various locations along the sandy, dry foothills, I've never seen them in the abundance described by the pioneers. I've also never seen roots the size that they described. Perhaps they were very hungry or their growing conditions in those times were different.
Sego lilies now are often sought by people throughout the United States in connection with the pioneers. I've had inquiries from as far away as Mississippi from people wanting to obtain sego lilies for their yard. If you look for sego lilies in catalogs, you will often find other mariposa lilies, but I know of no source for the Utah sego lily.
Can you grow sego lilies in your yard? The answer is probably not. Unfortunately, many people have tried to dig sego lilies from the wild, transplant them to their yards only to have them die in a couple of years. Sego lilies seem to grow in conjunction with other plants such as Indian paint brush and sage brush on the dry hillsides. They do not do well in moist, fertile garden soils so leave them on the hillsides rather than transplanting them in the garden.
Their bloom season is over for this year except for a few of the highest locations. Their bloom cycle is heavy some years and then goes for years when there are very few to be seen. This is probably related to weather patterns several years in advance of the bloom cycle. Moist weather will help start new plants for the future.
Researchers at Utah State University, the State Arboretum of Utah and commercial companies have tried to propagate sego lilies. Unfortunately again they do not propagate easily and even if the initial propagation hurdles are overcome, they generally will die within a short period of time if planted in the garden.
Pioneers ate other common native plants such as pigweed, redroot and thistles. They also brewed a drink from a broom plant called "Brigham Tea" or "Mormon Tea." While none of these seem particularly appealing to us, they certainly filled the void for foodstuffs and green produce that was lacking in those early pioneer diets.
Historical plants, however interesting, are not in most gardens so consider some modern problems.
- IF YOUR CORN is starting to silk out, it will develop problems with corn ear worm. The best control for corn ear worm is to spray Sevin only on the silks or else squirt the silks with a light dose of mineral oil in a squirt type oil can. Cut away the damaged part if control is inadequate. Never spray the the corn tassel with anything as the bees will work those tassels to collect the pollen. Continue pest control for apples and pears. Sprays for coddling moth should continue through the first part of September.
Walnut husk fly will also be out the first of next month. The walnut husk fly is the picture wing fly related to apple maggot and cherry fruit fly. Their specific damage is on two separate crops. On the walnut trees their damage is limited to destroying the husk around the outside of the nut. The fly lays its egg underneath the skin and the maggots hatch and burrow around underneath the shell of the husk. This causes the husk to adhere tightly to the shell and make it undesirable from a commercial standpoint. It does not damage the nutmeat inside the shell but the husk is very difficult to remove. It will attack both English and black walnuts.
Unfortunately the walnut husk fly also attacks peaches. If this pest has been a problem or there are a number of large walnut trees infested with the pest in the neighborhood, spray your peaches with malathion the first and the 15th of August. The damage to the peaches is similar to cherry fruit fly damage with a soft area in the peach and a small white maggot inside.
Next week we will discuss more about some of the pioneer plants that have come back into favor as landscape plants because they survive with less water.