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"Lily" and "Lilies" redirect here. For other uses, see Lily (disambiguation) and Lilies (disambiguation).
Flora Lilium bulbiferum ssp. croceum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Liliaceae
Subfamily: Lilioideae
Genus: Lilium

See text

Lilium (members of which are true lilies) is a genus of herbaceous flowering plants growing from bulbs, all with large prominent flowers. Lilies are a group of flowering plants which are important in culture and literature in much of the world. Most species are native to the temperate northern hemisphere, though their range extends into the northern subtropics. Many other plants have "lily" in their common name but are not related to true lilies.


The botanic name Lilium is the Latin form and is a Linnaean name. The Latin name is derived from the Greek λείριον, leírion, generally assumed to refer to true, white lilies as exemplified by the Madonna lily.[1] The word was borrowed from Coptic (dial. Fayyumic) hleri, from standard hreri, from Demotic hrry, from Egyptian hrṛt "flower". Meillet maintains that both the Egyptian and the Greek word are possible loans from an extinct, substratum language of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Greeks also used the word κρῖνον, krīnon, albeit for non-white lilies.

The term "lily" has in the past been applied to numerous flowering plants, often with only superficial resemblance to the true lily, including lotus, ranunculus, tulip, iris, anemone, agapanthus, zantedeschia, daylily, and others. All English translations of the Bible render the Hebrew shūshan, shōshan, shōshannā as "lily", but the "lily among the thorns" of Song of Solomon, for instance, may be the honeysuckle.[2]

For a list of other species described as lilies, see Lily (disambiguation).


The range of lilies in the Old World extends across much of Europe, across most of Asia to Japan, south to India, and east to Indochina and 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 epiphytes are known in tropical southeast Asia. In general they prefer moderately acidic or lime-free soils.


Lilies are tall perennials ranging in height from 2–6 ft (60–180 cm). They form naked or tunicless scaly underground bulbs which are their overwintering organs. In some North American species the base of the bulb develops into rhizomes, on which numerous small bulbs are found. Some species develop stolons. Most bulbs are deeply buried, but a few species form bulbs 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.

The flowers are large, often fragrant, and come in a range of colours including whites, yellows, oranges, pinks, reds and purples. Markings include spots and brush strokes. The plants are late spring- or summer-flowering. Flowers are borne in racemes or umbels at the tip of the stem, with six tepals spreading or reflexed, to give flowers varying from funnel shape to a "Turk's cap". The tepals are free from each other, and bear a nectary at the base of each flower. The ovary is 'superior', borne above the point of attachment of the anthers. The fruit is a three-celled capsule.[3]

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

Naturally most cool temperate species are deciduous and dormant in winter in their native environment. But a few species which distribute in hot summer and mild winter area (Lilium candidum, Lilium catesbaei,Lilium longiflorum) lose leaves and remain relatively short dormant in Summer or Autumn, sprout from Autumn to winter, forming dwarf stem bearing a basal rosette of leaves until accept enough chilling requirement, the stem begins to elongate while warming.


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


Some Lilium species are toxic to cats. This is known to be so especially for L. longiflorum though other Lilium and the unrelated Hemerocallis can also cause the same symptoms.[4][5][6] The true mechanism of toxicity is undetermined, but it involves damage to the renal tubular epithelium (composing the substance of the kidney and secreting, collecting, and conducting urine), which can cause acute renal failure. Veterinary help should be sought, as a matter of urgency, for any cat that is suspected of eating any part of a lily - including licking pollen that may have brushed onto its coat.[7]


Many species are widely grown in the garden in temperate and sub-tropical regions. They may also be grown as potted plants. Numerous ornamental hybrids have been developed. They can be used in herbaceous borders, woodland and shrub plantings, and as patio plants. Some lilies, especially Lilium longiflorum, form important cut flower crops. These may be forced for particular markets; for instance, L. longiflorum for the Easter trade, when it may be called the Easter lily.

Lilies are usually planted as bulbs in the dormant season. They are best planted in a south-facing, slightly sloping aspect, in sun or part shade, at a depth 2½ times the height of the bulb (except L. candidum which should be planted at the surface). Lilies have contractile roots which pull the plant down to the correct depth, therefore it is better to plant them too shallowly than too deep. A soil pH of around 6.5 is generally safe. The soil should be well-drained, and plants must be kept watered during the growing season. Some plants have strong wiry stems, but those with heavy flower heads may need staking.[8][9]


Below is a list of lily species and cultivars that have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:-

Classification of garden forms

Numerous forms, mostly hybrids, are grown for the garden. They vary according to their parent species, and are classified in the following broad groups;[19] [20][21]

  • 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, including L. bulbiferum, L. cernuum, L. concolor, L. davidii, L. lancifolium, L. maculatum.
    • Ia  upward-facing flowers
    • Ib  outward-facing flowers
    • Ic  downward-facing (pendent) flowers
  • 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.
  • 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 (with L. henryi). 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 species native to Japan, including L nobilissimum, L rubellum, L alexandrae, and L japonicum. They are fragrant, and the flowers tend to be outward facing. Plants tend to be tall, and the flowers may be quite large. The whole group are sometimes referred to as Stargazers because they appear to look upwards. For the specific 'Stargazer' hybrid, see Lilium "Stargazer".
  • Other hybrids (Division VIII). Includes all other garden hybrids.
  • Species (Division IX). All natural species and naturally occurring forms are included in this group.

Many newer commercial varieties are developed by using new technologies such as in vitro pollination, ovary culture and embryo rescue.[22]

Pests and diseases

Aphids may infest plants. Leatherjackets feed on the roots. Larvae of the Scarlet lily beetle can cause serious damage to the stems and leaves. Plants can suffer from damage caused by mice, deer and squirrels. Slugs, snails and millipedes attack seedlings, leaves and flowers. Brown spots on damp leaves may signal botrytis (also known as lily disease). Various fungal and viral diseases can cause mottling of leaves and stunting of growth.

Propagation and growth

Lilies 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; there are many seed germination patterns, which can be complex
  • by micropropagation techniques (which include tissue culture);[23] commercial quantities of lilies are often propagated in vitro and then planted out to grow into plants large enough to sell.

According to a study done by Anna Pobudkiewicz and Jadwiga the use of flurprimidol foliar spray helps aid in the limitation of stem elongation in oriental lilies. (1)

Culinary uses

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) and Lilium davidii var unicolor are grown on a large scale in China as a luxury or health food, and are most often sold in dry form. They are eaten especially in the summer, for their perceived 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 comparisons with the potato, although the individual bulb scales are much smaller. Yuri-ne (lily-root) is also common in Japanese cuisine, especially as an ingredient of chawan-mushi (savoury egg custard).

The "lily" flower buds known as jīnzhēn (金针, "golden needles") in Chinese cuisine are actually from the daylily Hemerocallis fulva.


Taxonomical division in sections follows the classical division of Comber,[24] species acceptance follows the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families,[25] the taxonomy of section Pseudolirium is from the Flora of North America,[26] the taxonomy of Section Liriotypus is given in consideration of Resetnik et al. 2007,[27] the taxonomy of Chinese species (various sections) follows the Flora of China [28] and the taxonomy of Section Archelirion follows Nishikawa et al.[29] as does the taxonomy of Section Archelirion.[30]

There are seven sections;

  • Martagon
  • Pseudolirium
  • Liriotypus
  • Archelirion
  • Sinomartagon
  • Leucolirion
  • Daurolirion

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

Section Martagon

Lilium distichum
Lilium hansonii
Lilium martagon Martagon or Turk's cap lily
Lilium medeoloides
Lilium tsingtauense

Section Pseudolirium

Lilium bolanderi Bolander's Lily
Lilium puberulum
Lilium kelloggii
Lilium rubescens
Lilium washingtonianum Washington Lily, Shasta Lily, or Mt. Hood Lily
Lilium kelleyanum
Lilium maritimum
Lilium occidentale
Lilium pardalinum Panther or Leopard lily
Lilium parryi
Lilium parvum Sierra tiger lily or Alpine lily
Lilium canadense Canada Lily or Meadow Lily
Lilium grayi
Lilium iridollae
Lilium michiganense Michigan Lily
Lilium michauxii Carolina Lily
Lilium superbum Swamp lily or American tiger lily
Lilium pyrophilum Sandhills Lily[31]
Lilium catesbaei
Lilium philadelphicum Wood lily, Philadelphia lily or prairie lily

Section Liriotypus

Lilium bulbiferum Orange Lily or Fire Lily
Lilium candidum Madonna lily
Lilium kesselringianum
Lilium ledebourii
Lilium szovitsianum Polish Lily
Lilium monadelphum
Lilium pyrenaicum
Lilium rhodopeum
Lilium akkusianum
Lilium bosniacum (Lilium carniolicum var. bosniacum)
Lilium carniolicum
Lilium ciliatum
Lilium pomponium Turban lily
Lilium ponticum
Lilium jankae
Lilium albanicum
Lilium polyphyllum

Section Archelirion

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

Section Sinomartagon

Lilium davidii
Lilium duchartrei
Lilium henryi Tiger Lily or Henry's lily
Lilium lancifolium Tiger Lily (often known as L. tigrinum)
Lilium lankongense
Lilium leichtlinii
Lilium papilliferum
Lilium rosthornii
Lilium amabile
Lilium callosum
Lilium cernuum
Lilium concolor Morning Star Lily
Lilium fargesii
Lilium pumilum Coral Lily, Low Lily, or Siberian Lily
Lilium xanthellum
Lilium amoenum
Lilium bakerianum
Lilium henrici
Lilium lijiangense
Lilium lophophorum
Lilium mackliniae Siroi Lily
Lilium nanum
Lilium nepalense
Lilium oxypetalum
Lilium paradoxum
Lilium primulinum
Lilium sempervivoideum
Lilium sherriffiae
Lilium souliei
Lilium stewartianum
Lilium taliense
Lilium wardii
Lilium arboricola
Lilium anhuiense
Lilium brevistylum
Lilium habaense
Lilium huidongense
Lilium jinfushanense
Lilium matangense
Lilium pinifolium
Lilium poilanei
Lilium saccatum
Lilium tianschanicum
Lilium floridum
Lilium medogense

Section Leucolirion

Lilium leucanthum
Lilium puerense
Lilium regale
Lilium sargentiae
Lilium sulphureum
Lilium formosanum
Lilium longiflorum Easter Lily
Lilium philippinense
Lilium wallichianum
Lilium wenshanense

Section Daurolirion

Lilium pensylvanicum
Lilium maculatum

Section not specified

Lilium eupetes


See also


External links

  • species list
  • species
  • North American Lily Society
  • Royal Horticultural Society Lily Group
  • 3 Time-lapse videos
  • the-genus-lilium
  • Lily Perennializing in Ithaca, Louisiana and Holland Research Newsletter Number 23 (May 2010) Flower Bulb Research Program Department of Horticulture, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University
  • Crossing polygon of the genus Lilium.

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