5 Lilies Native to the Northeastern U.S.

Closeup of Wood Lily
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Folks who aren't especially "woodsy" may not be aware of the native lilies of the regions where they live. As an example, take residents of the Northeastern U.S., as well as nearby states and Canadian provinces. Those who aren't in the habit of hiking through their area's forests and meadows may think of exotics such as Easter lily or Stargazer when they hear "lily."

That's too bad. There are some exquisite flowers in the Liliaceae family that are indigenous to areas such as New England. Consider the flowers introduced below if you live in the region and wish to try your hand at landscaping with native plants. Chances are there's a nursery not too far from where you live that specializes in selling natives, and they may well carry one or more of these five lovely native lilies.

Tip

Incidentally, another orange flower sometimes referred to casually as a "lily," namely, the common daylily (Hemerocallis fulva), is not native to North America, but instead hails from Eurasia. Like Stella de Oro, it is not even a member of the lily family, belonging instead to the Xanthorrhoeaceae family, a group that also includes the red hot poker plant.

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)
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  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
  • Color Varieties: Yellow
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, humusy soil that is slightly acidic

Trout lily is so-called for the appearance of its mottled basal leaves, whose shape and spots are reminiscent of the fish known as the speckled trout or speckled brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis).

This is a small plant, reaching just 6 inches in height. In the wild, it grows in deciduous forests or at the edges of the woods, in areas where the ground is moist. In landscape applications, it is a good candidate for woodland gardens or wet damp locations. Trout lily naturalizes readily; it grows from corms, with stolons that allow the plants to spread and form colonies.

This is a spring ephemeral that blooms in April or May—thereafter it hastily departs into dormancy for the summer.

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  • Bluebead Lily (Clintonia borealis)

    Clintonia Borealis in the Sunshine
    Laurie Faille / Getty Images
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, green, brown
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, rich soil

    At first glance, trout lily and bluebead lily are nearly identical, with similar basal leaves and nodding flowers. Both plants can spread to form large colonies over time, and they can often be found growing in the same places: damp, acidic, wooded areas. Upon close inspection, though, It's not difficult to identify bluebead lily. It is a slightly bigger plant (up to 12 inches or taller), it has more leaves (up to five), the leaves are not speckled, and its flowers aren't solitary (three to six flowers bloom in a bunch). It also blooms later than trout lily, in May to June.

    Moreover, bluebead lily can boast of an aesthetic feature that trout lily cannot: It bears attractive berries. The eponymous berries ("beads") are true-blue in color; although pretty, they are poisonous. When a sufficiently large number of these herbaceous perennials are present, the berry display can be quite impressive, especially against a light background.

  • Canada Lily (Lilium canadense)

    Wild yellow lily (Lilium canadense), Emsland, Lower Saxony, Germany
    Erhard Nerger / Getty Images
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, orange or red with brown speckles
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, rich soil

    The previous native lilies are members of Lilicaeae family of plants, but they are not true lilies since they do not belong to the Lillium genus. Canada lily is the first native in our list that is a true lily These plants all display the whorled-leaf pattern on their stalks characteristic of other members of the genus. Canada lily, like the following two, is a summer bloomer that can be grown in full sun to partial shade.

    Canada lily has nodding flowers and attains a height of 3 to 6 feet. It can bear either a solitary flower or numerous blooms; the University of Vermont suggests "16 to 20 at most" as the upper end of the spectrum. It is a bulb plant that can spread by underground runners to form colonies if conditions are right (it prefers wet ground).

  • Turk's Cap Lily (Lilium superbum)

    Turk's Cap Lily
     Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, red, orange, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium to wet, well-drained soil

    Turk's cap lily bears some resemblance to the better-known tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium, sometimes alternatively called Lilium tigrinum). But whereas the latter is exotic (hailing from Asia), Turk's cap is a native lily in the Northeast, and it's another stoloniferous bulb that can spread over time. It typically reaches a height of 4 to 7 feet.

    Turk's cap lily inhabits wet meadows in the wild. Each plant can produce numerous flowers, which nod to the ground. Michigan lily (Lilium michiganense) is a similar plant, but native to the Midwest.

  • Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum)

    Cluster of wood lilies
    Stockbyte / Getty Images
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, orange, red
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, dry, well-drained soil

    The wood lily is something of an oddball in this group. Yes, the flowers from this bulb plant exhibit the same color range as the others (yellow-orange-red; mainly orange), but its flowers do not nod. The wood lily flowers in July and August. It's also the runt of the group, sometimes achieving a height of just 1 foot and at most 3 feet. And whereas the other two native lilies like wet ground, this plant colonizes drier soils. The stalks of some plants carry but a single flower, while others can bear up to five.

"Native Plants" vs."Wildflowers"

Though the terms are often used synonymously, not all wildflowers are native plants. "Native plants" refers to the place of origin, whereas "wildflowers" (or "wild plants") indicates only that the plants in question can be found growing in places where they are not tended by human beings. The native lilies discussed above are assumed to have been pre-Columbian denizens of the Northeastern U.S. Many wildflowers growing in the region, by contrast, originated elsewhere.