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Flora Lilium bulbiferum ssp. croceum
Flora Lilium bulbiferum ssp. croceum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked) Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Liliaceae
Genus: Lilium

See text

Lily is the common name for any of the herbaceous flowering plants comprising the genus Lilium of the Liliaceae family, characterized by large flower with six tepals, leafy stems, linear leaves, and normally growing from underground bulbs from which they overwinter. There are about 110 species in the genus, widely distributed in the Old World (Europe, Asia, Mediterranean region) and New World (North America). The name lily also is used for the flower of any of these species.

While members of the genus Lilium are the "true lilies," there are many other plants that use the common name lily, including some that are quite unrelated to the true lilies. Water lilies comprise the family Nymphaeaceae, and the calla lily is in the genus Zantedeschia of the family Araceae. The sego lily and mariposa lily are members of the genus Calochortus, which sometimes is placed in Liliaceae, but sometimes in a separate family Calochortaceae. The name lily also serves as a collective name for the entire Liliaceae family, which is known as the lily family. This article will be limited to the true lilies of the Lilium genus.

Typically having large, showy flowers, and offering a diversity of colors, lilies are popular and economically important as ornamental plants, being planted in gardens or used as cut flowers. They are important culturally and in literature in much of the world. There also are species that are sometimes grown or harvested for the edible bulbs as well.

Ecologically, the large, colorful flowers (and large organs and sometimes colorful pollen) serve to attract large pollinators such as bumblebees and hummingbirds, providing them a food source (pollen and nectar) in exchange for pollination of the plants. Thus, the large flowers not only advance lilies' individual function of reproduction, they also provide a larger function for the ecosystem and for humans.

Overview and description

Lilium "Citronella."

Liliaceae, the "lily family," is a family of monocotyledons in the order Liliales. Plants in this family have linear leaves, mostly with parallel veins but with several having net venation (for example, Cardiocrinum, Clintonia, Medeola, Prosartes, Scoliopus, Tricyrtis), and flower parts arranged in threes.

Lilies, comprising the Liliaceae genus Lilium, are leafy stemmed herbaceous plants. Most species are deciduous, but a few species (Lilium candidum, Lilium catesbaei) bear a basal rosette of leaves during dormancy.

Lilies form naked or tunic-less scaly underground bulbs from which they overwinter. In some North American species, the base of the bulb develops into rhizomes, on which numerous small bulbs are found. Some species develop stolons. A few species form near the soil surface. Many species form stem-roots. With these, the bulb grows naturally at some depth in the soil, and each year the new stem puts out adventitious roots above the bulb as it emerges from the soil. These roots are in addition to the basal roots that develop at the base of the bulb.

Orange Lily showing stamens with pollen-covered anthers.
Pollen of Lilium auratum (Oriental Lily) Back-scattered electron microscope image.

The large flowers have six tepals. Tepals are elements of the perianth, or outer part of a flower, which includes the petals or sepals. The term tepal usually is used when all segments of the perianth are of similar shape and color, or undifferentiated. When different types of organs can be distinguished, they are referred to as petals and sepals. The flowers of lilies are often fragrant, and come in a range of colors ranging through whites, yellows, oranges, pinks, reds, and purples. Markings include spots, brush strokes, and picotees. The plants are summer flowering.

Seeds ripen in late summer. They exhibit varying and sometimes complex germination patterns, many adapted to cool temperate climates.

The botanic name Lilium is the Latin form and is a Linnaean name. The Latin name is derived from the Greek leirion, which is generally assumed to be the Madonna lily (LilyNet 2001).

Some species formerly included within this genus have now been placed in other genera. These include Cardiocrinum, Notholirion, Nomocharis, and some Fritillaria.


The range of liles in the Old World extends across much of Europe, the north Mediterranean region, across most of Asia to Japan, south to the Nilgiri mountains in India, and south to the Philippines. In the New World they extend from southern Canada through much of the United States.

They are commonly adapted to either woodland habitats, often montane, or sometimes to grassland habitats. A few can survive in marshland and a single one is known to live as an epiphyte (L. arboricola). In general they prefer moderately acidic or lime-free soils.


Lilies are popular as ornamental plants. Many species of lily are widely grown in the garden in temperate and sub-tropical regions. Sometimes they may also be grown as potted plants. A large number of ornamental hybrids have been developed. They can be used in herbaceous borders, woodland and shrub plantings, and as a patio plant.

Some lilies, especially Lilium longiflorum, as well as a few other hybrids, form important cut flower crops. These tend to be forced for particular markets; for instance, L. longiflorum for the Easter trade, when it may be called the Easter lily.

Lilium bulbs are starchy and edible as root vegetables, although bulbs of some species may be very bitter. The non-bitter bulbs of L. lancifolium, L. pumilum, and especially L. brownii (Chinese: 百合 ; pinyin: bǎihé gān) are grown at large scale in China as a luxury or health food, most often sold in dry form. They are eaten especially in the summer, for their ability to reduce internal heat. They may be reconstituted and stir-fried, grated, and used to thicken soup, or processed to extract starch. Their texture and taste draw comparison with the potato, although the individual bulb scales are much smaller.

Although they are believed to be safe for humans to eat, there are reports of nephrotoxicosis (kidney failure) in cats which have eaten some species of Lilium and Hemerocallis (Langston 2002).

Lilies are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including The Dun-bar.

Classification of garden forms

Asiatic hybrid flower.

Numerous forms are grown for the garden, and most of these are hybrids. They vary according to their parent species and are classified in the following broad groups:

  • Species (Division IX). All natural species and naturally occurring forms are included in this group.
  • Asiatic hybrids (Division I). These are plants with medium-sized, upright or outward facing flowers, mostly unscented. They are derived from central and East Asian species.
  • Martagon hybrids (Division II). These are based on L. martagon and L. hansonii. The flowers are nodding, Turk's cap style (with the petals strongly recurved).
  • Candidum hybrids (Division III). This includes hybrids of L. candidum with several other mostly European species.
An emasculated Lilium Stargazer.
  • American hybrids (Division IV). These are mostly taller growing forms, originally derived from L. pardalinum. Many are clump-forming perennials with rhizomatous rootstocks.
  • Longiflorum hybrids (Division V). These are cultivated forms of this species and its subspecies. They are most important as plants for cut flowers and are less often grown in the garden than other hybrids.
  • Trumpet lilies (Division VI), including Aurelian hybrids. This group includes hybrids of many Asiatic species, including L. regale and L. aurelianse. The flowers are trumpet-shaped, facing outward or somewhat downward, and tend to be strongly fragrant, often especially night-fragrant.
  • Oriental hybrids (Division VII). These are based on hybrids of L. auratum and L. speciosum, together with crossbreeds from several mainland Asiatic species. They are fragrant, and the flowers tend to be outward facing. Plants tend to be tall, and the flowers may be quite large. An example is Lilium "Stargazer."
  • Other hybrids (Division VIII). Includes all other garden hybrids.

Propagation and growth

Liliums can be propagated in several ways;

  • By division of the bulbs
  • By growing-on bulbils which are adventitious bulbs formed on the stem
  • By scaling, for which whole scales are detached from the bulb and planted to form a new bulb
  • By seed; seed germination patterns are variable and can be complex


Section Martagon

Lilium distichum.jpg Lilium distichum
Hanson's Lily Lilium hansonii Flowers 1842px.jpg Lilium hansonii
Lil martagon var cattaniae 01Infl Griechenland Rhodopen 16 07 01.jpg Lilium martagon Martagon or Turk's cap lily
Lilium medeoloides 220708.JPG Lilium medeoloides
Lilium tsingtauense.jpg Lilium tsingtauense
Lilium debile (Drawing).jpg Lilium debile

Section Pseudolirium

Lilium bolanderi.jpg Lilium bolanderi
Lilium columbianum.jpg Lilium columbianum Columbia lily or tiger lily
Lilium humboldtii ssp ocellatum.jpg Lilium humboldtii Humboldt's lily
Lilium kelloggii.jpg Lilium kelloggii
Lilium rubescens edit.jpg Lilium rubescens
Lilium washingtonianum 3.jpg Lilium washingtonianum Washington Lily, Shasta Lily, or Mt. Hood Lily
Lilium kelleyanum.jpg Lilium kelleyanum
Lilium maritimum.jpg Lilium maritimum
Lilium occidentale.jpg Lilium occidentale
Lilium pardalinum.jpg Lilium pardalinum Panther or Leopard lily
Lilium parryi.jpg Lilium parryi
Lilium parvum 2.jpg Lilium parvum Sierra tiger lily or Alpine lily
CanadaLily.jpg Lilium canadense Canada Lily or Meadow Lily
LiliumPuberulum.png Lilium puberulum
Lilium grayi 2.jpg Lilium grayi
Lilium iridollae.jpg Lilium iridollae
Tiger-lily.JPG Lilium michiganense Michigan Lily
Lilium michauxii.jpg Lilium michauxii Carolina Lily
Lilium pyrophilum
LiliumSuperbum1.jpg Lilium superbum Swamp lily or American tiger lily
Lilium catesbaei1LEPPYONE.jpg Lilium catesbaei
Wild Lily Blooming along Dog Lake Trail at Kootenay National Park.jpg Lilium philadelphicum Wood lily, Philadelphia lily or prairie lily

Section Liriotypus

Lilium bulbiferum mg-k.jpg Lilium bulbiferum Orange Lily or Fire Lily
Lilium candidum 1.jpg Lilium candidum Madonna lily
Lil chalcedonicum 01EB Griechenland Hrisomiglia 17 07 01.jpg Lilium chalcedonicum
Lil kesselringianum 01Hab Tuerkei Ardahan Savsat 04 07 94.jpg Lilium kesselringianum
Lilium ledebourii 2.jpg Lilium ledebourii
Lilium szovitsianum (Flower).jpg Lilium szovitsianum
Lilium monadelphum .JPG Lilium monadelphum
Lilium pyrenaicum.jpg Lilium pyrenaicum
Lil rhodopeum 01Infl Griechenland Rhodopen Livaditis 12 06 00.jpg Lilium rhodopeum
Lii akkusianum 01aHab Tuerkei Akkus 07 07 93.jpg Lilium akkusianum
Lilium carniolicum.jpg Lilium carniolicum
Lilium ciliatum (2).jpg Lilium ciliatum
Lilium pomponium.jpg Lilium pomponium Turban lily
Lil carniolicum subsp ponticum 01EB Tuerkei Ikizdere 02 07 93.jpg Lilium ponticum
LiliumJankaeBulgaria1.jpg Lilium jankae
Lil albanicum 1aEB Griechenland Katarapass 14 06 00.jpg Lilium albanicum
Lilium polyphyllum.jpg Lilium polyphyllum

Section Archelirion

LiliumAuratumVVirginaleBluete2Rework.jpg Lilium auratum Golden rayed lily of Japan, or Goldband lily
Lilium platyphyllum
Lilium brownii
Lilium japonicum
Lilium nobilissimum
Lilium rubellum
Lilium speciosum.jpg Lilium speciosum Japanese lily

Section Sinomartagon

Lilium davidii
Lilium duchartrei.jpg Lilium duchartrei
Lilium henryi Tiger Lily or Henry's lily
Tigerlilysmall.jpg Lilium lancifolium Tiger Lily
Lilium lankongense
Lilium leichtlinii
Lilium papilliferum
Lilium rosthornii
Lilium amabile
Lilium callosum
Lilium cernuum
Lilium concolor
Lilium fargesii
Lilium pumilum
Lilium xanthellum
Lilium amoenum
Lilium bakerianum
Lilium henrici
Lilium lijiangense
Lil lophophorum 01aHab China Yunnan Big Snow Pass 19 06 01.jpg Lilium lophophorum
Siroi Lily.jpg Lilium mackliniae Siroi Lily
Lilium nanum
Lilium nepalense (flower).jpg Lilium nepalense
Lilium oxypetalum
Lilium paradoxum
Lilium primulinum
Lilium sempervivoideum
Lilium sherriffiae
Lilium souliei
Lilium stewartianum
Lilium taliense
Lilium wardii.jpg Lilium wardii
Lilium arboricola
Lilium anhuiense
Lilium brevistylum
Lil habaense 01aEB China Yunnan Gang Ho Ba 25 06 01.jpg Lilium habaense
Lilium huidongense
Lilium jinfushanense
Lilium matangense
Lilium pinifolium
Lilium pyi
Lilium saccatum
Lilium tianschanicum
Lilium poilanei
Lilium floridum
Lilium medogense

Section Leucolirion

Lilium leucanthum
Lilium puerense
Lil regale 01Infl China Sichuan Wolong 18 06 04.jpg Lilium regale
Lilium sargentiae
Lilium sulphureum
Lilium formosanum
Lilium longiflorum.jpg Lilium longiflorum Easter Lily or November Lily
Lilium philippinense
Lilium wallichianum
Lilium wenshanense

Section Daurolirion

Lilium pensylvanicum
Lilium maculatum

Section not specified

Lilium eupetes

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Sources of taxonomy

  • Taxonomical division in sections follows: Comber, H. 1949. A new classification of the genus Lilium. Lily Yearbook. Royal Hortic. Soc., London. 15: 86-105.
  • Taxonomy basically from: Govaerts, R. 2006. World Checklist of Liliaceae. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved December 23, 2008.
  • Taxonomy of Section Pseudolirium from: Flora of North America, Vol. 26. Retrieved December 23, 2008.
  • Taxonomy of Section Liriotypus in consideration of: Resetnik, I., Z. Liber, Z. Satovic, P. Cigic, and T. Nikolic. 2007. Molecular phylogeny and systematics of the Lilium carniolicum group (Liliaceae) based on nuclear ITS sequences. Plant Systematics and Evolution 265: 45–58.
  • Taxonomy of Chinese species (various sections): Flora of China, Vol. 24. Retrieved December 23, 2008.
  • Taxonomy of Section Archelirion in consideration of: T. Nishikawa, K. Okazaki, K. Arakawa, and T. Nagamine. 2001. Phylogenetic analysis of section Sinomartagon in genus Lilium using sequences of the internal transcribed spacer region in nuclear ribosomal DNA. Breeding Science (育種学雑誌) 51(1): 39-46.
  • Taxonomy of Section Archelirion in consideration of: T. Nishikawa, K. Okazaki, and T. Nagamine. 2002. Phylogenetic relationships among Lilium auratum Lindley, L. auratum var. platyphyllum Baker and L. rubellum Baker based on three spacer regions in chloroplast DNA. Breeding Science (育種学雑誌): 52(3): 207-213.

External links

All links retrieved October 25, 2022.


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