Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ajo Lily

While driving in El Pinacate Gran Desierto in Sonora, Mexico recently we found a beautiful white flower called the ajo lily, or desert lily, off to the side of the sandy road. 
Ajo means garlic in Spanish. The bulbs of the ajo lily resemble garlic bulbs and were used by the Indians for food. The stalk is one to six feet high, the base surrounded by long, narrow blue-green leaves with scalloped edges.
These leaves appear a month or so before the foot-high flowering stem which bears the large, white, trumpet-shaped flowers.
The flower has six white petals
highlighted with green stripes on the back.
It is pollinated by the sphinx moth and blooms in March or April, but not every year. When the growing season is over, the bulb and its 10 inch root lie dormant, 1/2 to two feet underground. It is found in southwestern Arizona and northern Mexico. The town of Ajo, Arizona was apparently named after the ajo lily, because they are (or were) so prevalent there. Presumably, the Ajo Mountains that are in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument may also have gotten their name for the same reason. I found a poem titled "Ajo Lily" by Peggy Shumaker in in The Amicus Journal, dated March 22, 1997. It reads, in part, " Two feet deep under earth...the bulbs swell, sweetness too deep to lure larvae, ground too hard even wet years to tempt claws. Impossibly delicate one layered shoot reaches up, pushing aside massive rubble...so these clear blue bells might echo ajo, ajo..." [Much of the information for this post came from Arizona Wildflowers by Eleanor H. Ayer]

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