Tiger lilies, calla lilies, blue bead lilies—there are hundreds of variations to the plant family known as liliaceae. There are four main categories for lily plants, and each has distinguishing characteristics. You can find the longiflorum variety in the northern regions of the United States. Oriental, Asiatic and longiflorum x Asiatic varieties come from Europe, Asia and Japan. In order to identify lily varieties, it helps to have an understanding of their basic qualities.
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Learn how a lily plant is distinguished from other types of flowers and plants. Regardless of the category, the majority of lilies have petals in multiples of threes, leaves with parallel veins, three sepals, six stamens and a three-parted stigma. People not trained in botany will tend to look at lilies as having six petals instead of three, but botanists distinguish between the first layer of sepals, which look like petals, and the second layer of petals. The petals should be the same color.
Study photos of different types of lilies. The flowers of lily plants can help you identify them. From large flowers to small clusters of flowers, each main category and subfamily of lilies has distinct characteristics. The Vascular Plant Image Library (see Resources) provides links with photos for several lily varieties.
Distinguish the difference in fragrances. Lilies in the longiflorum variety have a strong, sweet scent while flowers in the Asiatic variety have a less potent smell. The Oriental variety, while less powerful than longiflorum, has a more noticeable smell than Asiatic varieties.
Look at the color of the petals. The most common lilies in the US are longiflorum lilies, which have white petals. Different types of lilies have different colored petals. For example, a tiger lily with its bright orange colored leaves falls into the Asiatic category, which has the most variety in the color of the petals. You can also find Oriental lilies in a variety of colors but with less variance than Asiatic ones.
Evaluate the type of flowers on the lily. One of the main differences between lily varieties is the flowers. While most lilies follow the basic guidelines, they can have distinct appearances. For example, longiflorum lilies tend to have large flowers with a funnel shape. Asiatic varieties tend to have smaller petals. In the subfamilies for lilies, the shape and appearance of the petals helps distinguish the specific family. The bunchflower subfamily has little white flowers that grow in bunches; the lily subfamily, which consists of plants like the tiger lily, tends to have showy petals in a variety of colors; and the onion subfamily hosts lilies with bulb roots and flowers in which the sepals and petals fuse together.