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The first lilies of the season are in bloom in the perennial bed. Short and orange, they are the beacon that summer has arrived for me. These Asiatic hybrids are among the most common lilies we see, with upward facing blooms atop a straight leaf-whorled stem.
Though I am no lily expert, I do have a new fascination with them as I add more variety to the garden. Up until now the only variety that existed was between the shorter Asiatic and the towering Oriental hybrids.
Indeed there is a great deal of diversity among the named cultivars, but I wanted something more, so I looked to the American hybrids.
Well, as it turns out the American hybrids are mostly crosses between Western species that will not grow well here. So, the next step was to try and find the North American natives born east of the Mississippi.
As it turns out there are several fabulous looking North American lilies that have a native range in these parts: Lilium canandense, L. philadelphicum, L. superbum and L. michiganense.
The other thing the have in common is that they are considered a bit difficult to grow because they require certain growing conditions but surely some among us can offer the perfect culture.
Lilium canandense, called the Canada or meadow lily, is elegantly beautiful but a little tricky to grow because it requires acid, well-drained and moist soil. If you can establish a bed, working in sand to provide good drainage and peat to lower the pH (and be diligent about irrigation, perhaps a drip-line system), you will like enjoy this fabulous lily for more then one season.
The meadow lily blooms in June in a most graceful manner, reaching about 3 feet in height bearing slightly reflexed turk’s nodding yellow blooms.
The next native species to bloom, in June and July, would be L. philadelphicum (no its common name is not Philly lily but rather wood lily!) The wood lily is an edge of the prairie-edge of the woodlands sort of plant so afternoon shade is a good idea. It is similar in appeal and preference to loamy acidic soil like its cousin above, but it is rather small in stature, reaching only a few feet.
Anecdotally, it is said to flower best after prairie fires (maybe I’ll try one on the edge of our prairie.)
Lilium michiganense seems the least fussy about pH, acid is preferred but not excessively so. It grows from Michigan to Kentucky, loves consistently moist soil and full sun. It has turk’s cap speckled blooms, usually just four or so atop it long stem.
The American turk’s cap lily, or L. superbum, is dramatic in height and number of blooms.
This lily reaches 4 to 7 feet and can carry up to 30 blooms on one stem in July and August. The flowers are speckled orange, nodding, and reflexed as the turk’s cap moniker suggests.
The bulbs are rhizomatous thus naturalize well in the garden. The ideal garden culture would have moist soil consistently because this lily naturally grows in wet areas; and it may very well be the easiest of the native to grow in the garden.
The success of hybridization in the lily genus has led to an enormous selection in lilies from all over the world but it has also led to some straight species being ignored (and thus rare) so look for these North American natives and let the challenge begin.