The chocolate lily is a plant with a bit of an identity disorder -- when green thumbs say "chocolate lily," they could be referring to any one of four plants: Arthropodium strictus, Fritillaria biflora, Fritallaria camschatecensis or Fritillaria lanceolata. Both the Arthropodium and Fritillaria genera belong to the Liliaceae, or lily, family, so the plants share many characteristics. However, while all chocolate lilies have have drooping blossoms and affinity for sunlight or dappled shade, they differ in the details.
Also known as Dichopogon strictus, this chocolate lily comes from Australia, unlike other chocolate lilies that mostly hail from the western United States. It can be grown in America, however, in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 9. As its common name implies, the bluish or violet flowers of this plant have a distinctly sweet, chocolaty smell, a fact that distinguishes it from other species that share the name. The leaves of this herbaceous perennial, which reaches heights up to about 3 feet and sports 1-inch flower buds, resemble green blades of grass. The tubers of this plant can be eaten raw or cooked. While some tubers taste sweet, others taste bitter.
The California-native Fritillaria biflora goes by the common name chocolate lily or mission bells. As it grows up and down the west coast of the United States, this perennial herb is hardy to USDA zone 7. Mission bells reach heights of about 1 to 1 1/2 feet high and feature drooping, bell-shaped flower blossoms, colored a warm chocolate brown. Unlike other chocolate lilies, this type features distinctive green and purple lines on the undersides of its petals. These three-petaled blossoms accent the plant's lance-like leaves, which grow as long as 5 inches. Although the word "biflora" would seem to indicate that the plant features clusters of two flowers, this chocolate lily often sports up to four flowers on each stem -- some specimens may even host up to 20 blossoms in total.
Green thumbs call the Fritillaria camschatecensis many different names, including chocolate lily, Kamchatka lily, black lily, rice root or Lilium camschatecensis. The name "rice root" refers to the this plant's edible bulbs, which resemble a clump of cooked rice. These bulbs, which taste like chestnut, lend themselves to everything from pudding to bread to soup. Like the Fritillaria biflora, this chocolate lily comes from the American west coast, where it is hardy to zone 4, but it also grows in British Columbia, Siberia and Japan. Like other chocolate lilies, rice root features brown-hued blossoms, but its flowers have six petals and the plant grows to heights of up to 2 feet. The whorled leaves of this species resemble large, thick blades of grass and its flowers -- which also come in yellow varieties -- emit a unpleasant odor.
Sometimes dubbed checker lily, chocolate lily, Fritillaria affinis or rice-grain mission bells, this flowering plant is the tallest of the chocolate lilies, reaching heights up to 4 feet. Its violet, drooping flowers feature brown, green, purple and yellow specks. The bulbs of this chocolate lily sometimes form additional tiny bublets, which actually make up the "rice" portion of a dish known as "Indian rice." Like other Fritillaria species, this herbaceous perennial has whorled, grass-like leaves on its nodding stem. Another native of the American west and British Columbia, the checker lily is hardy to USDA zone 5.