Lilium philadelphicum, the wood lily or wild lily, is a flowering perennial herb native to North America. It grows in open prairies and forest clearings throughout the eastern United States and Canada, and it thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. It was once a very common plant in nature, but habitat encroachment and overcollection have seriously threatened its numbers.
Wood lilies grow between 1 and 3 feet tall. Long, lance-shaped leaves surround one or more upright flower stems. Plants normally produce between one and four reddish-orange, funnel-shaped blossoms with brownish-purple speckling on the flower's yellow base. Each flower has six tepals, or flower parts that are similar to petals. These tepals are elliptical in shape, with pointed tips and narrow bases. Wood lilies normally bloom in late summer. The blossoms give way to three-sided seed capsules later in the season.
Wood lilies prefer well-drained, dry soils that are rich in humus, but they can tolerate a variety of soil types, including clay, sand or loam. They do well in sunlight, partial sunlight or shady growing conditions, and they benefit from additional moisture during the summer months. Since these plants already suffer from loss of habitat and overcollection, purchase bulbs or seeds through a reputable dealer rather than taking them from the wild.
Planting Wood Lilies
Wood lilies propagate through seed or bulb division, but they can be difficult to establish. Sow the seeds lightly across soil in pots either late in the winter or early in spring. The seeds germinate within four weeks, but the new seedlings are very delicate, so take care when transplanting them. You can also divide the bulbs after the plants have become dormant and replant them in pots. Leave them in the pots for at least a year so that they can become established before attempting to transplant them. The Plants for a Future database notes many people leave them in their seed pots for the first two years of growth. Feed the young plants regularly. Protect wood lily bulbs and plants from rabbits and other rodents during the spring because they might devour the shoot tips and prevent the bulb from growing. Slugs also feed on wood lily plant parts.
Native American Uses
Wood lily bulbs were useful among many Native American tribes. The cooked bulbs were used as a topical medicine to help heal lesions, bruises or other skin injuries. After giving birth, women often drank a tea made from wood lily bulbs to help them safely pass the afterbirth. The tea was also used for treating fevers, stomach ailments and coughs. Native Americans also cooked and ate the lily bulbs as part of their diet.
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Database: Lilium Philadelphicum
- Connecticut Botanical Society: Wood Lily
- University of Wisconsin Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium: Lilium Philadelphicum
- Minnesota Wildflowers: Lilium Philadelphicum (Wood Lily)
- Plants for a Future: Lilium Philadelphicum
- Connecticut Botanical Society: Chart of Perennials
- United States Geological Survey Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center: Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands
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