Chocolate Lily

Chocolate Lily1also called Rice-root Lily, Checker Lily, Mission Bells, or Northwestern Fritillary.

Fritillaria affinis (frit-il-air-ia: checkered; a-fine-iss: related). Synonym: Fritillaria lanceolata

Tepals 6, ½–1⅓” long [2–3 cm], inward-curving, brownish purple mottled with yellowish green; 6 stamens; flowers pendent, 1–4; seed capsule (lower photo)  ½” long [2 cm], 6-winged, held more erect; leaves 2–5″ long [5–13 cm], ⅛–1″ wide [3–25 mm], some in whorls and some single; stem 5–36″ tall [13–90 cm], from a bulb of a few large garliclike cloves with many tiny ricelike bulblets.
Habitat: Grassy slopes below treeline; WA, w OR, n ID, sw and sc BC.
Natural History: These elegant flowers sell themselves short, with camouflage coloring and Chocolate Lily2a smell that draws flies. The bulbs and rice-like bulblets were a major food in the old days; they’re bitter and too rare to dig up now. When rice was introduced to the Haida, they named it “fritillary-teeth.”

Both this genus of lilies and a type of butterflies may have more or less checkered color patterns on their petals or their wings, respectively, and are called fritillaries, after a Latin word for a chess board. The Romans had a sort of dice box they called a fritillus, and the flower’s name has sometimes been traced to that word, but the chess board explanation makes more sense and is found in Gerard’s Herball of 1597.

This article and photos are adapted from Northwest Mountain Wildflowers, an app for iPhone and iPod.