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Wild Lily Flowers

By April Sanders ; Updated September 21, 2017
Tiger lilies are wild, or true lilies.

Wild lilies (Lilium genus) are those that nature created, according to the North American Lily Society. Often called "species" or "true" lilies, these are the original lily flowers from which hybrids have been cultivated. The Lily family is huge, comprising about 3,700 species, which range from the traditional-looking Tiger Lily to wild onions. All are considered wildflowers. Lilies that are planted in the garden are usually hybrids, but some home gardeners enjoy growing the old-fashioned wild lily flowers.


Wild lilies are found throughout the world and primarily in temperate climates. There are native, true species of lilies in North America and parts of Europe. The greatest number of wild lily species are found in Japan and China, according to the North America Lily Society. There are also wild lilies in Burma and India.


Wild, or species lilies, are distinctive in several ways. They are identifiable by their groups of three sepals and three petals, which usually look like six identical petals, according to the Wildflowers and Weeds website. The flowers, which come in a wide variety of colors, can be very large (around 6 inches across) or very small (less than an inch). There can be only one flower on one stem, three or four medium-sized flowers on one stem, or hundreds of tiny flowers. The small flowers tend to grow in large clusters. Lilies have six stamens, and long, slender leaves that have six veins. The leaves can range in size from small clusters half the size of the stem, or single leaves that are taller than the flower.


Wild lilies should be planted twice as deep as the length of the bulb. They thrive in rich, cool soil and love organic compost. Place a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost over the bulbs after planting them, and again in the fall. Space individual bulbs at least a foot apart, as these plants spread quickly. Never plant these bulbs where standing water develops, as too much water will cause the bulbs to rot. A location that receives at least a half-day's worth of sunlight is necessary for good blooming, according to the North America Lily Society.


Wild lilies can vary widely in their ease of growth and care, according to the North America Lily Society. Some, like Henry's lily (Lilium henryi), will grow just about anywhere. Others need very acidic soil, or a planting site that drains extremely well. Choose your species carefully according to how much maintenance you want to give the plant. In addition, the bulbs of lilies have papery skin that is not protected by any sort of covering. This makes them vulnerable to root rot and animal or insect pests, so they need to be either planted right away or stored in a cool, dry location.


Many popular wild lilies are cultivated in home gardens, according to American Meadows. Lilium lancifolium, or the Tiger Lily, has distinctive, bright-orange, drooping blooms that are lightly freckled. This lily is very hardy and will grow on just about any type of soil, in partial shade or a full sun location. The Leopard Lily (Lilium pardalinum) is native to the Pacific Northwest and will thrive in wet areas of your garden where other plants might suffer from root rot. This lily, which has pink, bell-shaped flowers, will spread every year. The Golden-Rayed Lily (Lilium auratum), which is native to Japan, features large, heavy, creamy-white flowers with golden streaks down each petal. These flowers are showy and distinctive, but they need staking and can grow only on acidic soil.