Lily Family

Yellow Mariposa Lily © KKorbholz

Liliaceae (Lil-ee-AY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

    • Generally grow from bulbs
    • Leaves usually smooth-edged blades with parallel veins
    • Usually large flowers with 6 colored tepals

    Description (Jepson)

      • Perennial herbs
        • Grow from bulbs (short underground stems with fleshy leaves, e.g. onions) or occasionally from rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
      • Monocotyledons (monocots) – monocots are a major lineage of flowering, mostly herbaceous plants, generally characterized by
        • Single seed leaf (cotyledon)
        • Linear or oblong leaves with parallel venation
        • Flower parts in threes
        • Pollen grains with a single pore
        • Vascular bundles scattered in stem
        • Fibrous root system
      • Leaves
        • Basal or along the stem (cauline)
        • Alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem) or whorled (3 or more leaves/flowers at each junction with stem)
        • Simple (not divided into leaflets) and entire (with smooth edges)
      • Flowers
        • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) in small groups or single flower
        • Bisexual, radially-symmetric, usually large flowers
          • 3 petals and 3 sepals (outer flower parts), in 2 separate whorls, similar in appearance and collectively called tepals
            • Usually colorful and often patterned
          • Usually 6 stamens, sometimes 3
        • Provide nectar for insect pollinators
        • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
      • Fruit a many-seeded capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open), which is wind-dispersed, or a berry (a usually multi-seeded fruit with a fleshy ovary wall), dispersed by animals


        • Approximately 630 species, mainly in northern temperate regions (Jepson)
          • Species count varies widely as the treatment of this family is highly unsettled
          • Includes fritillaries, mariposa lilies, leopard lilies, and many cultivated ornamentals, including daylilies, tulips, and hyacinths
        • Geophytes, e.g. plants growing from bulbs, corms, and rhizomes, are adapted to survive fire, our Mediterranean climate’s long, dry summers, and extended droughts
          • Above-ground growth dies back after flowering, while underground the plant survives with stored water and nutrients
        • In addition to a fibrous root system that takes in water and nutrients, many members of the Lily family have contractile roots
          • Contractile roots adjust the depth of the bulb or corm in the soil by expanding and then contracting, pulling the bulb downward
        • Deer heavily browse many species
        • Native people harvested many Lily species and other edible geophytes (Anderson 2005)
          • Bulbs were boiled, steamed, roasted, or baked in earthen ovens
          • Plants were actively managed
            • Hardwood sticks were used for digging
            • Some plants were spared to allow future crops
            • Bulblets were dispersed and replanted
            • Areas were burned to decrease competition and recycle nutrients
        • CAUTION – some species are toxic, e.g. Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) and some Fritillaria species
          • Bulbs may also be confused with those of the highly toxic death camas / star lilies (Toxicoscordion species) in the False-hellebore family
        • Flowers in this family have acquired religious and artistic significance in many cultures
          • In ancient Assyria and Egypt, lilies were an emblem of sovereignty and a symbol of purity
          • In the Middle Ages, lilies became a symbol of the Virgin Mary
          • As funeral flowers, lilies symbolize the soul restored to innocence after death
        • Scientific and common name from the included genus Lilium, from the Greek lirion, “a lily”; the genus was published by Carl Linnaeus in 1753
        • Historically large and highly diverse family, which has been greatly reduced based on studies of embryonic development, morphological details, and genetic evidence
        • Represented by 7 species at Edgewood

        See General References

        Specific References

          Schusler. T.M. 2004. Ecological Impacts of High Deer Densities. TIEE: Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology. Ecological Society of America.

            Kandeler, R. and Ullrich, W. 2009, May. Symbolism of plants: Examples from European-Mediterranean culture presented with biology and history of art: June: Lilies. Journal of Experimental Botany, Vol. 60, Issue 7, pp. 1893–1895.

            Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family