One of the most stunning perennials for a sunny garden border is the tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium), with its towering stems that bear dozens of flowers. The beauty of a tiger lily blossom is obvious: bright orange and spotted like a leopard with curling petals. Although lacking fragrance, the shape of the bloom and the cat whisker-like filaments that dangle downward from each flower makes it delightful to examine. The lily grows from an underground scaly bulb.
A member of the lily family, Liliaceae, the tiger lily is botanically known as Lilium lancifolium. Another synonymous botanical name is Lilium tigrinum. Besides being commonly called tiger lily, it may also be called Chinese lily. To confound the situation, many orange-flowering lilies found in meadows or roadsides in North America are generally dubbed "tiger lilies", but are different species of true lily or daylily.
Tiger lily is native to eastern Asia, from eastern China to the Korean Peninsula, Japan and adjacent parts of extreme southeastern Russian or Siberia. It has been cultivated in gardens outside Asia since the 1700s, including the eastern United States.
Tiger lily grows from a bulb comprised of many fleshy scales. A tall stem, from 2 to 6 feet, emerges from the underground bulb in spring and is lined in many lance-shaped, glossy, dark green leaves. In late summer the stem tip bears up to 40 orange-red flowers that are not fragrant. Each flower has six petals that are re-curved and spotted with dark purple. The flower is nodding, facing the ground, and the long pale orange filaments that hold the pollen anthers extend downward and spreading, like spider legs.
At the base of leaves at the top of the plant stem are small purplish black bulbils, or immature developing bulbs. These bulbils detach and fall to the ground and take root, forming new plants. Bees and butterflies pollinate the flowers, resulting in a pod that ripens to brown. It splits open to release seeds, an additional way to create new lily plants in the landscape.
Grow tiger lily in a moist, well-draining soil that is fertile. Soil pH ideally is acidic to neutral (5.0 to 7.0), although with organic matter in the soil slightly alkaline conditions are not a problem. For best flowering, make sure the lily grows in full sun conditions, at least 6 to 9 hours of direct sunlight each day. It is considered hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 8. It needs a cold winter dormancy annually.
Many orange-flowering lilies in North America may be commonly called "tiger lilies". Of particular concern is differentiating the native orange lily, the American Turkscap lily (Lilium superbum), from the tiger lily. It is important to plant the native lily in meadow restoration plantings in North America. The American Turkscap lily has a noticeable green star-like throat in the base of each flower.