The Queen of Early Summer Wildflowers

A solo Humboldt lily, the first to bloom in a sheltered creekside location deep in the Santa Monica Mountains. Photos by Suzanne Guldimann

The Humboldt lily is the queen of early summer wildflowers in the Santa Monica Mountains and one of the most spectacular flowers native to the area. In a good year, this native tiger lily look-alike can grow to be more than eight feet tall. A single plant can produce dozens of brilliant orange blossoms.

The local subspecies, Lilium humboldtii ocellatum, is native to the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s found in riparian areas throughout Southern California’s coastal mountains and on the Channel Islands.

Another subspecies, Lilium humboldtii bloomerianum, grows in the foothills of the Sierras.

Humboldt lilies are increasingly rare. L. humboldtii ocellatum is thought to be a

survivor from a cooler, wetter epoch and is at risk from climate change, as well as habitat loss, but it can still be found throughout the local mountains.

During the extended drought it rarely bloomed, but this year things are looking good for the flower. Ample rain at the right time has provided optimum conditions for a stellar bloom. Look for Humboldt lilies in riparian areas near creeks and streams, or along a moist and protected canyon side.

A cluster of Humboldt lilies. In a good year, a single plant can have dozens of flowers.

Humboldt lilies are a favorite nectar flower for the Western tiger swallowtail butterfly. They are also a popular menu item for deer. Unfortunately, they also sometimes attract human predators who either pick the flowers or illegally dig up the bulbs. The plants and their pollen have their own defense. They contain a skin irritant that can potentially cause an extremely itchy form of contact dermatitis. They also flourish in areas favored by poison oak. Avoiding direct contact is recommended, no matter how tempting it is to take a close look at these spectacular flowers.

Although the Humboldt lily is considered to be relatively rare by the California Native Plant Society, a slog through the poison oak at the bottom of a deep canyon isn’t always necessary to find it: we know of one Topanga Canyon Boulevard residence where Humboldt lilies bloom almost every year in the front yard, and this year, the flowers should be appearing along many of the creekside sections of the Backbone Trail throughout the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

The Humboldt lily bloom should peak in mid-June and could continue through early July, if the weather remains cool.


Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at

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