Daylily vs. Lily: How to Tell the Difference

Also, What's Considered a True Lily

Pink and light yellow daylily flowers on tall stems

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The common names of flowers can be one of the more appealing and colorful aspects of gardening, but they can also be confusing. One man’s trout lily is another man's dogtooth violet. When you are trying to tell the difference between true lilies (Lilium) and daylilies (Hemerocallis), for example, it helps to know the Latin or botanical names of plants.

What Is a True Lily?

A true lily is part of the Lilium genus and grows from a bulb.

Fortunately, it’s easy to make distinctions between the two plants by looking at the leaves, flower stems, and how they grow. For example, you may wonder if a daylily is a true lily. Here are the main differences that can help you distinguish between a daylily vs. a lily (true lily).

True Lily/Lily Daylily
How They Grow Bulb Tuberous roots
Stems Single Multi-stems
Petals 6 petals, non-layered 6 petals, layered
Anthers 6 anthers, plus 6 stamens 2 anthers, plus 6 to 7 stamens
Leaves Spiral of leaves up entire stem Long, flat strap-shaped blades at soil line
Bloom Time Week or more 1 day
Shapes Trumpet-shaped, bowl-shaped, funnel-shaped, and recurved Circular, triangular, double, ruffled, star-shaped, and spider-shaped

How to Spot a Daylily (Hemerocallis)

The leaves are a dead giveaway as to which plant you have. Daylilies have long, flat strap-shaped blades that grow in clumps from the crown of the plant, at the soil line. Daylilies can grow up to 4 feet tall. Daylilies also grow from thick, tuberous roots that are easily divided.

Daylilies are popular with hybridizing breeders, and there are over 30,000 named varieties. Each flower blooms for only one day, which is why daylilies do not make good cut flowers. The name Hemerocallis comes from the Greek words "Hemera," which means day and "kallos," which means beauty. The flowers are borne on thin stalks, or scapes, that grow from the base of the plant. The scapes may be multi-branched.

Older varieties need to be deadheaded every day to keep them in bloom. Newer hybrids tend to deadhead themselves. Most plants have multiple buds that will bloom over a period of time.

If you look closely at the flower, you’ll see that there appear to be two layers of three petals. The top three are the actual petals. The bottom three are sepals. The center of the flower, the throat, is often a contrasting color. Each flower has either six or seven stamen and an additional two-lobed anther.

Orange daylily flowers and blooms in middle of spiky leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

How to Spot a Lily (Lilium)

All true lilies are grown from a bulb of overlapping scales. There are about 100 species of lilies, but lilies are generally defined by their classification, such as Asiatic, Oriental, and Martagon (Turk’s cap). They have one central, unbranched stem that grows from the lily bulb, with the flower buds forming at the top of the stem. The leaves grow around the entire length of the stem, in whorls or spirals. Lilies can grow from about 1.5 feet tall to a towering 10 feet.

Lilies always have six petals and six anthers. Each bloom lasts a week or more. True lilies are popular cut flowers. The lowest buds on the stem will open first and the remaining buds will open sequentially through to the topmost buds. If you bring your lilies indoors, consider removing the anthers. The thick pollen can stain anything it falls on or touches.

While there are several differences between the two flowers, all you really need to look for is the growth habit of the stems and leaves. Multi-stems with strapping leaves coming from the base of the plant is always a daylily. A single stem with leaves whirling about it is always a true lily.

Oriental trumpet lily flowers with deep pink petals on long stems

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

What’s a Tiger Lily?

There's a bit more confusion within the common names of lilies, especially when it comes to the tiger lily. Tiger lily is a common name given to a true lily (Lilium) that has bright orange blossoms speckled with dark-brown spots, resembling a tiger's coloring. The blooms are orange or reddish-orange and have dark-brown speckles covering the petals. The petals of the tiger lily curve backward and the whole blossom droops downward.

But it's easy to mistake another orange lily—the ditch lily—with the tiger lily since both have naturalized along roadways. The ditch lily, however, is an orange daylily which grows from tuberous roots and blooms for a day.

Double form tiger lily with black spotted flowers on orange petals closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova