Also known as: Lilium

The lily, or the bulbous perennial that the Liliaceae family is named for, has over 100 species in the genus and is well-known in the gardening world, as well as in popular culture. Lilies are native to northern regions, from Europe, across Asia, northern India and Japan, to southern Canada and the United States. The flowers have been around since Minoan times, where paintings in the palace of Knossos show certain heirloom species of lilies in the wall reliefs. Part of the widespread growth of lilies is thanks to the Romans, who carried the flower with them throughout the empire.

The plant has 9 divisions, classified by the shape of the flowers and by where the species is native to. While you will have to consult your garden center with regards to which varieties belong to which division, the divisions of the lily include:

  • Division I – Asiatics: includes many lilies native to the Asian regions; has three subdivisions
  • Division II – Martagon hybrids: lilies derived from Lilium martagon
  • Division III – Candidum hybrids: lilies derived from Lilium candidum
  • Division IV – American hybrids: lilies derived from American species. The flowers are sometimes scented.
  • Division V – Longiflorum hybrids: lilies derived from Lilium longiflorum and L. formosanum. The division is typified by its large, sweetly scented flowers.
  • Division VI – Trumpet and Aurelian hybrids: lilies derived from Asian species; usually scented.
  • Division VII – Oriental hybrids: East Asian lily species. The flowers are highly scented.
  • Division VIII – Other hybrids: includes interdivisional hybrids; for example, L. longiflorum crossed with Asian hybrids.
  • Division IX – All true species.

Lilies can be eaten as a starchy vegetable (they are a luxury food item in China) and are most often seen as funeral flowers, where the flower represents the soul that has received renewed innocence in death.

As a garden flower, Lilies have four flower shapes – bowl-shaped, trumpet-shaped, recurved, and funnel-shaped. They come in most colors, except blue, and can be spotted, striped or otherwise marked with a second color. Foliage is a pale brown-green with pointed leaves. Some species of lilies can grow to 72 inches high and should be planted approximately 6 inches apart. The flowering season is in the summer.

Growing Lilies

The flowers should be planted in full sun, with the base of the plant in shade. Many lilies like a slightly acidic soil with lots of rotting matter. Water as you would any other perennial. Lily bulbs should be stored in the refrigerator, away from fruits and vegetables, until they are planted in the fall or spring. Using too much fertilizer on lilies can be detrimental to the health of the plant.

Recommended Varieties

With multiple cultivars in each of the nine divisions, the choices are endless when it comes to planting lilies. Some interesting cultivars include "Madonna Lily", a pure white flower with an orange stamen; "Ariadne" is a pale peach flower spotted with red; "Avignon" is an orange-red flower; and "Calla Lily" is another popular cultivar of the lily.

Landscape Design Tips

Lilies look excellent in nearly every setting, but are especially spectacular when mass planted. They will tolerate woodland garden settings, container gardens and borders.

Gardening Zones

Most lilies are hardy in zones 3 to 8.

Pests and Problems

In terms of pest control and plant care, lilies are prone to gray mold, viruses spread by aphids, red lily beetles, slugs, snails, and other animals such as deer, voles and birds.