Friday, August 5, 2011

Ohio's Native Lilies

I've decided to postpone the remainder of my Bruce peninsula trip for later posts down the road.  There are just too many time sensitive topics and themes to catch up on due to my extended absence.  Once winter sets in and the roaring fire of botanical activity dies back to a smoldering ember I'll have a lot more time and opportunity to fondly reminisce on that amazing experience.  Now I'd like to switch gears and talk about one of the most beautiful and exciting genera of summer blooming plants, the Lilies (Lilium).

Michigan Lily (L. michiganense) and Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)

Lilies are one of those plants that regardless of your depth and interest in the plant world you know exactly what to expect when I say their name.  Chances are many of you have them in your gardens and landscaping.  Many different species and cultivars of the Asiatic lily are used, widely ranging in color and size.  The orange Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) seen by the hundreds along the road and in peoples yards in June and July are actually not true lilies, not even belonging in the same genus or family.

In our state there are only four species of lily native to our borders.  They all come in an array of reddish-orange colors, bloom from late May through July and are hands down some of the showiest botanical gems of the hot and muggy summer months.  None of our species are overly common and occur rather locally in distribution either singly or in patches.  Just about every corner and area of Ohio has a species or two to be found but none range evenly throughout the state.  The first native lily to bloom in our soils also has the title of being the rarest.  This is the Wood Lily (L. philadelphicum).

Lilium philadelphicum
Lilium philadelphicum
















The Wood Lily is the easiest of the four to identify by its one to five upright flowers; no other species in Ohio exhibits erect inflorescences.  The leaves occur mostly in whorls with a few leaves alternately appearing in-between the sets of whorls.  The six tepals (you can call them petals if you'd like) can vary in color from a light orange to dark red with a scattering of dark brown dots on the inner, lower part of the petals.

There are two varieties within L. philadelphicum differing in leaf size and arrangement along with habitat.  The variety L. philadelphicum var. philadelphicum is Appalachian in range and has lanceolate to oblanceolate leaves occurring predominately in whorls.  It typically grows in woodlands and thickets. L. philadelphicum var. andidum is more western in distribution and prefers more open situations such as meadows, prairies, glades and roadsides.  Its leaves are thinner and more lanceolate and alternately arranged with the uppermost set whorled.  Both occur in Ohio with the var. andinum being more common.

Lilium philadelphicum
Lilium philadelphicum
















Looking at the North American distribution from above you can see Ohio sits right in the middle between the two varieties with var. philadelphicum to the east and var. andinum to the west (where it's frequently called Prairie Lily).  In Ohio, the Wood lily is restricted to the south-central counties such as Adams and Scioto and to the north near Lake Erie.

The next species of lily to bloom is the Michigan Lily (L. michiganese).  This lily is quite different from the previous Wood lily but can be easily confused with the Turk's Cap Lily (L. superbum), which I will discuss later.  Standing up to 5' tall with a smooth, unbranched stem, the Michigan Lily has leaves in whorls of 3-7 leaves and crowned with 1-6 drooping flowers from long peduncles.  On larger, older plants it's not uncommon to see flowering stalks emerging from the axils of the upper leaves.

Lilium michiganense
Lilium michiganense
















The individual flowers are orange in color with a strong speckling of brown dots on the inside, getting more numerous as you get closer to the throat.  Six prominent stamens protrude from the flower and are each adorned with large, pollen covered anther.  The tepals reflex strongly back towards the base of the flower and in some cases actually touch/overlap one another at the base.

Michigan lily is restricted largely to the glaciated western half of Ohio where it is at the eastern extent of its distribution.  It becomes more common as you move west and north into the Great Lake states.

Lilium michiganense
Lilium michiganense
















Throughout its range the Michigan lily grows in a variety of hydric situations from wet meadows and prairies to openings in wet woods and thickets; swamps, marshes and fens.  The picture from the beginning is from a large marsh in central Minnesota where hundreds of Michigan lilies were mixed in with a thick and large carpeting of Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium).  The next lily can be confused with this species but there are some telltale differences.

Lilium michiganense
Lilium michiganense
















*NOTE*  On second looks at the photos previously labeled Lilium superbum and re-examining the specimens this past summer I have decided these are rather very robust and healthy plants of Michigan lily (L. michiganense) instead of turk's cap lilies.  The lack of the green star on the inside of the corolla and the cherry red style are both indicators of Michigan lily.  I hope to replace with real L. superbum soon!  I apologize for the mistake.

Blooming around the same time as the Michigan lily is the Turk's Cap Lily (L. superbum).  This is our arguably tallest lily at 6' tall and flowers 3-4" across.  As I mentioned it and Michigan lily are easily confused but can be told apart in a few ways.  The best way is to look at the color of the bulb but that is a difficult and potentially harmful to the plant.  Michigan is yellow in color while Turk's Cap is white.  The anther in Turk's Cap's are always longer than 1/2" while Michigan most times is shorter than 1/2".  The Turk's Cap lily also tends to be a larger, more robust plant with more flowers on the stalk.  The flowers come off to me as a darker orange with larger spots and are overall larger than the Michigan's.  The tepals also reflex back but do not go as far as to touch or overlap like the Michigan lily's.  The color of the style can also help.  Michigan lily's style is cherry red in color (best exhibited from the photo below left) while turk's cap are more yellowish orange.  Turk's cap lilies also have a 'green star' at base on the inside of the corolla.

Where you are in Ohio is another helpful hint in separating these two lilies.  The Turk's Cap grows in the northeastern quarter of the state as well as the southern most counties where it hardly overlaps with the Michigan lily's range.  So the chances of you being in an area where you could potentially see both species is rather low.  L. superbum was once a state-listed species but has since been discovered in enough new localities to be considered less rare and no longer a species of concern.

Lilium michiganense
Lilium michiganense
















L. superbum is more southerly and Appalachian in range where it grows in moist meadows and woodland openings as well as along streams, rivers and lakes .  The beauty of these plants is not lost on your blogger's eyes, these truly are one of the most jaw-dropping and exciting of any wildflower one is likely to find in our state.  Even the scientific epithet chronicles its timeless allure with 'superbum'.  Super.  It most certainly is!

Last but certainly not least is the last of our lilies to break bud and capture our attention and hearts with their deep red color; the Canada Lily (L. canadense).  Arguably Ohio's most common species, the Canada lily can also be included in the heated debate of the prettiest as well.  The plant is very similar in appearance with the other's; tall and unbranching with whorled sets of leaves with a whorling of blooms at the apex.

Lilium canadense
Lilium canadense
















The biggest difference in the Canada versus all others is in the flowers.  The exterior of the tepals is usually a dark red with the interior an orange color heavily polka-dotted with brown dots.  The stamens stay parallel to the pistil and do not curve out like the other lilies.  The flower itself also hangs straight down on its curved peduncle, giving off a chandelier look and appearance.

This lily is largely restricted to the unglaciated Allegheny plateau in Ohio where it can commonly be seen blooming beginning in early July.  It is mostly Appalachian in range and gets more common the more northward you go and more rare as you get into the southern Appalachians, including the Smoky Mountains.

Lilium canadense
Lilium canadense
















In its natural habitat within Ohio, the Canada lily grows in moist meadows, woodland openings, savannahs and roadsides.  A slow, scenic drive through the forest roads in the steamy depths of Shawnee state forest in July is a sure fire way to see this remarkable plant.  I've seen plants over 6 feet tall with a dozen fully open flowers along the roads of Shawnee and it certainly is worth the heat and humidity.

I hope after this you can see for yourself and better understand why I hold the respective members of the Liliaceae family in Ohio to such a high standard for their beauty.  They truly are some of our most remarkable and aesthetically exciting wildflowers regardless of habitat or bloom time!  I hope you enjoyed the post and I'm glad to be back and look forward to bringing you more natural treasure of Ohio!

4 comments:

  1. Very nice specimens, I am only familiar with the wood lily.

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  2. Just gorgeous! Our Turk's Caps are now in their glory in northern NY, while the Wood and Canada are past their bloom times. Although I doubt I will ever see a Michigan Lily around here, I do thank you for the explication of their differences.

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  3. Thanks, guys. I absolutely adore the native lilies. I'm jealous you still have them in bloom, especially my favorite one, Jackie :)

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  4. Thank you, your blog helped me identify a patch of L. canadense blooming on my property right now. I'm in love with them!

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