Consider the Lilies of the field…

North Carolina is a large state. From mountains tall to seashore the Carolina Lily grows, and blooms, and shares its spotted splendor, its heavenly scent, and its recurved Turkish cap with all who seek it. Look in late summer for the orange, or yellow, sometimes red, never dull, always spotted lily of the field – the North Carolina state wildflower.

Lilium michauxii, or Carolina Lily, is the state wildflower of North Carolina.

Like all members of the Lily family, the Carolina Lily has three petals and three sepals with six slender filaments topped by brown anthers protruding from the center of the flower, as does a long style with a three-lobed stigma. I get confused by several cousins of the Carolina Lily – the Tiger Lily (Lilium lancifolium) and the Turks Cap Lily (Lilium superbum) . So let’s take a closer look at all three. The Tiger Lily is native to eastern Asia and is widely grown in home gardens. As its name implies, it has lance-like leaves as opposed to the longer and broader leaves of the Carolina lily. The bulbils growing in leaf axils is another give away and the Tiger Lily has no scent.

The Tiger Lily has shorter leaves on a tall stalk and is invasive while the Carolina Lily produces few seeds and is uncommon but not endangered. Note the black bulbils on the stem to the left.

The Turk’s Cap Lily can grow to seven feet and usually has a green star in the blossom center. It is a native of the eastern US and can produce up to forty blooms on a single stalk. It does not have an odor like the Carolina Lily.

The Turk’s Cap Lily has a green star at its center and is very tall.

Very confusing, right? At first glance, they are all similar. The scent gives the Carolina Lily away and the height and green star lets us know that we are looking at a Turk’s Cap. Other native lilies, like the Trout Lily, bloom early in Spring and are always short, yellow, and have mottled brown and yellow leaves.

The Trout Lily or Dogtooth Violet can grow in huge colonies of thousands.

The Clinton’s Lily or Blue-Bead Lily is yellowish-green and I have found it blooming along high elevation trails in late May in the Smoky Mountains.

Clinton’ Lilly is easily overlooked as it hugs the forest floor and its pale yellow flowers blend with the light green leaves.

The Wood Lily is not really a lily but resembles the native lilies with color, spots, and general appearance.

The Wood Lily is the only upright bloomer of this group. It never nods.

The Canada Lily also shares the same range as the Carolina Lily but is usually redder and does not have recurved blossoms.

The Canada Lily ranges from Georgia to the Canadian provinces.

Lilies are beautiful plants that are not commonly found on wildflower hunts and when they are, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish different varieties. All can be grown in the garden and with that said, I need to start planting my lilies for next Spring and Summer. Let’s move on to our next alphabetical state – North Dakota – and its state wildflower which we have seen in several other states. I need a different spin on the Wild Prairie Rose.

One last look at the Carolina Lily – an exquisite flower!

1 thought on “Consider the Lilies of the field…

  1. I wonder if they have the same kind of scent that a star gazer lily has?? They are so pretty but I’m so allergic to them!!!


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