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Consider the Lilies of the Field

The continuing discoveries of a 21st century artist and naturalist …

Most likely people think of lilies as being white.  That is an accurate view of several varieties of lilies but not all.

For this piece I am looking at not just the flowers that have Lily as part of their name but also those that are in the Family Liliaceae or the Order Liliales.    Of the eight flowers I’ve included only one is white and another is cream.   Some of the flowers ‘call’ themselves a lilies but are not in the order or family of lilies.  No matter the color or size, which varies as well, they are all beautiful.  (Click on individual images to enlarge.)

Indian Cucumber-root  – Medeola virginiana

I doesn’t look like a cucumber above ground but if you pull one up, so I am told by one of my many research guide books, the tuber-like white rhizome tastes like a cucumber.  They are sometimes even shaped like and smell like cucumbers.  American Indians chewed the root and spit on the hook to make fish bite.  Who knew that fish liked cucumbers?

Family:  Liliaceae

White Ginger Lily – Hedychium coronarium

The white ginger lily is not a flower that grows wild in our area but is cultivated as a domestic flower.  It is native to Asia but has been transported to other regions.  It is considered an invasive species in Brazil and Hawaii.

Family: Zingiberaceae

Yellow Ginger Lily – Hedychium flavescens

Family:  Zingiberaceae

Like the White Ginger Lily this flower is a cultivated variety in North America.  Also native to Asia it is an invasive species in New Zealand.  When it is introduced into the wild it can be very difficult to control.   It thrives in most any type of soil and is highly shade-tolerant.  The rhizome is very tough and can sprout a plant from a tiny piece and survives crushing and sea water.

So if you want to grow the white or yellow Ginger Lily make sure you keep it contained.

Turk’s Cap Lily – Lilium superbum

Family:  Liliaceae

Flowers of lilies are either cup-like and upright or bell-like and nodding.  Perhaps the most alluring of our native, wild lilies falls into the latter category.  The Turk’s Cap lily carries this common name because of the shape the petals make in their fully open state.   The more accurate term would be Turban Lily as the more common, worldwide, variety is Lilium martagon.  Martagon is a Turkish word that means turban (or cap) but the shape of the flower does not resemble a Fez as much as a turban.

Tiger Lily – Hemerocallis fulva

Family:  Xanthorrhoeaceae

Other names for this day lily are roadside, ditch or railroad lily because it is so often seen blooming along roads or railroad tracks.  Even though it is not a native plant it has been naturalized since the 1790’s and is an escapee from old homestead sites.  Because it has long underground stolons it has been widely used for erosion control.

Wild Tiger Lilies at railroad Watermarked

Tiger Lily – Hemerocallis fulva

Canna Lily – Canna indica

Family:  Cannaceae

As in the Tiger Lily above the Canna Lily has environmentally positive properties.   According to the Wikipedia article I found on them they

can be used for the treatment of industrial waste waters through constructed wetlands. It is effective for the removal of high organic load, color and chlorinated organic compounds from paper mill wastewater.

Elizabethan Gardens Elizabethan Gardens Canna indica Canna Lily

Canna Lily – Canna indica

Wake-Robin – Trillium erectum

Family: Trilliaceae

Trilliums are one of the plants that are categorized under the Order:  Liliales.    The exact taxonomy of these plants has been debated at length and, depending on which research guide utilized, may vary widely.  I’ve used Trilliaceae based on its classification in Flora of Virginia by Alan S. Weakley, J. Christopher Ludwid and john F. Townsend which was published in 2012 and was the first such documentation in 250 years (Flora Virginica published in 1762).

The root of the Red Trillium, as it is often referred to, was used by American Indians to induce childbirth and so has a traditional name of Bethroot or Birthroot.  It is more commonly called Wake-Robin now because it is considered, along with Robins, as a harbinger of Spring.

Wild Oats or Sessileleaf Bellwort – Uvularia sessilifolia

As with the Indian Cucumber-root the plants are colonial – that is are found in groups or ‘colonies’.  The leaves do not have a stem themselves but are attached directly to the flower stalk.  Due to their low growth pattern, only 6 to 12 inches, they are easily missed except when in bloom.  I was fortunate to stumble on a colony this past spring – the first time I have ever seen these flowers.

Solomon’s Seal – Polygonatum bifflorum

Solomon’s Seal is a very close relative to the Lily of the Valley and contains some of the same components in the rhizomes – gum, sugar, starch and pectin.   The flowers and roots used as snuff are celebrated for their power of inducing sneezing and thereby relieving a stuffed-up head.  They also had a wide vogue as aphrodisiacs and love potions.  The berries are stated to cause vomiting and if the leaves are chewed cause nausea.

In ancient Greece the distilled water of the whole plant from the plant was used as a cosmetic. It was claimed at the time that if it was used on the face or other parts of the skin it ‘cleansed’ and freckles, spots or other marks and left the skin fresh, fair and lovely.  I was used by Italian ladies for that same purpose and it was once the principal ingredient of most of the pricier cosmetics and beauty washes.

Yellow Trout Lily – Erythronium americanum

The common name is derived from the spotting on the leaves which are comparable to a brook trout.   Like the Indian Cucumber-root these lilies form colonies but only one nodding blossom from each pair of leaves.  The yellow petals bend backwards and expose six brown stamens.

The leaves, flowers and tubers (best when very young) are all edible.  As with all harvesting of wild plants and flowers should check its legal status regarding rare/endangered/threatened at both the Federal and state level.

Canada Lily – Lilium canadense

Most of the time I write about flora and fauna of North Carolina.  While this lily can be found here based on the USDA’s Plants Database I took this photograph while hiking near Middlebury, Vermont.

Unlike some other lilies with petals and sepals that are bent back the tips don’t touch on this lovely lily.

The Canada Lily is listed as Rare, Threatened or Exploitably Vulnerable in Tennessee, New York, Rhode Island and Indiana.

Canada Lily – Lilium canadense

Enjoy the flora and fauna in your area.  Get out and explore the wonders we have while they are still there to enjoy.   But, please, always check on the legal status of wild plants before disturbing their habitat or harvesting even a small sample.


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