Idyllwild: California mountain town fest shows lemon lilies some love

Lemon lilies are true California natives. Tall stalks, big trumpet-shaped yellow blooms, super sweet smell. They're hard to miss when you're rambling through certain parts of Southern California's wild places.

I was lucky enough to be on a trail that started at Buckhorn Campground, about 34 miles north of La Cañada Flintridge, when I stopped in my tracks at the sight of a mini-forest of lemon lilies.

The town of Idyllwild in the San Jacinto Mountains loves them too, so much so that it celebrates what's botanically known as Lillium parryi with a two-day festival each year. This year's event will be this weekend.

"The goal it to make everyone aware of them," said Julia Countryman, festival spokeswoman, "and not to pick them when they go hiking." She explained that in the 1900s, the hills were covered with hundreds of thousands of lemon lilies.

People started finding and uprooting the plants to take home. But the wildflower didn't thrive in home gardens because the habitat was wrong. That didn't stop the lilies from being just about "picked to extinction," Countryman says.

The nonprofit Lemon Lily Festival formed in 2009 to raise funds to bring the plant back to its historical range. The organization supports the work of volunteers who raise lilies from seed that are then replanted in their native riparian home.


For $25, anyone can adopt a lily and have their name put on the plant's stake, which remains wherever it's replanted.

The festival happens in downtown Idyllwild starting with the Lemon Lily Launch from 6-9 p.m. Friday. It's a chance to sample food from local restaurants and taste things such as Lemon Lily Beer and even a Lemon Lily-tini.

On Saturday and Sunday, there's the blessing of the lemon lilies at the Idyllwild Nature Center and lemon lily walks, nature talks, garden club tours, a craft and food marketplace, and some nice bluegrass/country western music too. 

Many events are free; garden tours cost $5 per person or $10 per family; Taste of Idyllwild costs $30 in advance, $35 at the door.

Info: Idyllwild Lemon Lily Festival & a Little Bluegrass Music, (951) 659-3850