Story of Utah's State Flower: The Sego Lily

Utah State Flower Sego Lily

 

 

The Sego Lily’s wild nature is truly part of its magic. Blooming in early summer, the sego lily has white, lilac, or yellow flowers and grows on open grass and sage rangelands in the Great Basin of Utah. It is also called the Mariposa Lily, Spanish for butterfly, because Spanish explorers thought the beautiful hillside flowers looked like butterflies. 

Like a lot of wildflowers that capture the imagination, it's extremely difficult to domesticate. It needs sandy soil with little water in order to thrive. Read on to learn how the Sego Lily became Utah’s official state flower. 


History of the Sego Lily in Utah

Native Americans in the area we now refer to as Utah, had a long history of admiration for the flower. In this region, the native people had been harvesting and eating Sego Lily roots for generations.

When the first pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints settled in the area around the Great Salt Lake, they were not accustomed to growing crops in the difficult and sandy soil of the Utah valley. Life was hard and many people went hungry. Swarms of locusts and crickets ate what crops they were able to grow and poor access to game left settlers wondering how they would survive. 

Luckily, when the April bloom of Sego Lilies spread across the sandy hills of the region, the Natives showed the new pioneers how to prepare them for food and ultimately saved the settlers from starvation.


… It Takes a Lot of Lilies

The Sego Lily grows on a single stem and the edible bulb at the root is about the size of a marble. So you can imagine it takes A LOT of lilies to fill a single belly. The bulbs are rather nutty and sweet when eaten cooked or they can be dried and eaten like nuts. Each root = one flower, so when the hillsides were blanketed in these lilies, the hungry feasted on these tasty bulbs. When the hunger hit hard, everyone who harvested these bulbs would have had to gather hundreds of these flowers to fill their bellies.


Harvest Flower Roots with Care

The Sego Lilies harvested by natives and pioneers alike were safe to eat. However, it is important to note that not all flower bulbs are tasty and some are toxic. For example, there were many northern Europeans who cooked and ate tulip bulbs during World War II to fight famine, but some tulips are toxic to pets. And some flower bulbs, like that of Crocus and Lily of the Valley can poison anyone who tries to consume the root of the plant.


Protecting the Wild Sego Lily

Nowadays, residents are strongly discouraged from picking or digging this lily when it blooms as these plants are protected and should be cherished. If you see one, snap a photo and spare a thought for the natives and early settlers of Utah. It took courage to taste the sego bulb and hard work to free them from the soil. 

Now we must protect these beautiful flowers. When out looking for wild Sego Lilies, please try to avoid squashing or treading on this historical and beautiful flora. 


How The Sego Lily Became Utah’s Official State Flower

The Sego Lily was chosen as the State Flower of Utah on March 18th, 1911. The flower was chosen as the flower symbol of Utah because of its natural beauty and historic significance as a savior from starvation.