The 9 Divisions of Garden Lilies

Oriental 'Vancouver' lily flowers with bright pink petals closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The term "lily" gets bandied about quite a bit by flower gardeners. But the Lilium genus refers to a specific group of perennial plants, including beloved flowers like the Easter lily and the famous 'Stargazer' lily, which are important to the cut flower trade. A great many plants that carry "lily" as part of their common name are not, however, true lilies. Daylilies, toad lilies, peace lilies, and water lilies, while possessing many desirable attributes, are not true lilies.

True lilies are all perennial plants that grow from bulbs that have a characteristic scale structure and notably large flowers. There are more than 80 species in the genus, but most of the plants grown in gardens are hybrid crosses of various native species—or cultivars that have been selectively developed from those hybrids.

The North American Lily Society recognizes nine horticultural divisions of garden lilies. Although not all are common in the nursery trade, the following nine lily categories are sure to contain your new favorite.

Warning

Easter lilies, tiger lilies, Asiatic lilies, and Oriental hybrid lilies are toxic—and potentially fatal—to cats. All parts of these plants are poisonous, particularly the flowers. Dogs typically aren't affected by these true lilies.

  • 01 of 09

    Asiatic Lilies (Lillium hybrids)

    Asiatic lilies with yellow and pink petals

     

    Stephen J. Krasemann / Getty Images

    Asiatic lilies, like the 'Lollypop' cultivar, are arguably the easiest to grow for beginners and, therefore, are one of the most popular lily divisions. In the official horticultural classification system, Asiatic lilies fall into Division 1. The flowers are mostly unscented, but this shortcoming is more than made up for by the ​rainbow of colors available. Flowers may face up, down, or outward, and they usually bloom in June or July. Although lilies aren't common in container gardens, dwarf Asiatics, like the 12-inch-high 'Buff Pixie,' will adapt to pot culture. Asiatic lilies are derived from genetic crosses of lilies native to eastern and central Asia and from interspecific hybrids of those species.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids; parent species are native to eastern and central Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 1–5 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • 02 of 09

    Martagon Hybrids, Turkscap Lilies (Lilium martagon x)

    Martagon lilies with speckled pink flowers

     

    Linda Burgess / Getty Images

    Martagon hybrid lilies occupy Division 2 in the classification system. They're so-named because L. martagon is one of the common genetic parents for hybrids. Martagon hybrids are difficult to grow, but the ethereal 5-to-6-foot wands of mature plants are worth it. These hybrids are often known as turkscap lilies, named for the shape of the blossoms. Plant them in the fall, choosing a sheltered location with excellent drainage, and expect fragrant blooms in May or June. These are the most shade tolerant garden lilies, so a location at the edge of a woodland garden, but away from competitive tree roots, is best. Choose your location wisely, as martagons don't transplant well.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids; parent species are native to Asia, Europe
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–9
    • Height: 3–6 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • 03 of 09

    Candidum Lilies (Lillium hybrids)

    Candidum lilies with white petals and yellow stamens
    Lastovetskiy / Getty Images

    Candidum lilies are true heirloom plants, varieties that have been cultivated for thousands of years. In the classification system, these are Division 3 lilies. They're derived from lilies native to the Balkans and Middle East, some of which have become widely naturalized in Europe. The common name, madonna lily, comes from it symbolizing purity in Christianity. Candidum hybrids need a sheltered spot; an eastern exposure with morning sun is preferred. Amend the soil if needed to bring the pH to a neutral level, and plant the bulbs just under the surface, about 1 inch. They prefer slightly dry conditions and will succumb to grey mold in damp locations. Trumpet-shaped white blooms appear in summer.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids; parent species are native to Balkans, Middle East
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6–9
    • Height: 4–6 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • 04 of 09

    American Hybrids (Lillium hybrids)

    American hybrid lily with speckled orange petals

    Kelly Kalhoefer / Getty Images

    Another class of hybrid lilies, Division 4 in the classification system, was formed by crossing various native North American species. These hybrids, including the Humboldt lily, form large colonies in gardens with humus-rich soil and good drainage. The large floral candelabras, which feature blossoms with sharply recurving and downward-facing petals, work best in wildflower gardens and informal landscapes. Because they're derived from native North American species, they naturalize readily. When you encounter a "wild" lily, it's not always clear if it's a true native species or a naturalized hybrid. Likewise, some "wild" lilies aren't native species or hybrids at all. The familiar roadside tiger lily is almost always an Asian species, Lilium lancifolium or Lilium tigrinum.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids; parent species are native to North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–9
    • Height: 5–7 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Longiflorum Hybrids (Lilium hybrids)

    Longiflorum lily with white petals and pale green throat

    patty_c / Getty Images

    The longiflorum lily group, Division 5, is familiar to most gardeners as the seasonal Easter lily, forced by growers to bloom in the spring. In the garden, longiflorum lilies produce white trumpet-shaped blooms in July or August. Unlike many seasonal gift plants, you can successfully move the Easter lily to a permanent spot outside. Choose a sheltered spot where the flowers are in the sun but the roots are in the shade. Leave the foliage intact, and provide regular moisture.

    • Native Area: Southern islands of Japan, Taiwan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Height: 2–3 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 06 of 09

    Trumpet Lilies, Aurelian Lilies (Lillium hybrids)

    Trumpet lily flowers with pink petals

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Division 6—which comprises trumpet lilies, named for their bugle-shaped blossoms—contains many Asiatic lilies with particular tubular, trumpet-shaped flowers or hybrid crosses of such Asiatics. The label "Aurelian hybrid" is applied to a trumpet lily in which one of the parents is L. henryi, a species native to China. Although less cold hardy than other lilies, trumpet lilies are easy to grow as long as you stake them to protect their massive blooms and give them a layer of insulating mulch to help them through winter. Cultivars like 'Golden Sunburst' are more drought tolerant than other lilies and may exceed heights of 8 feet if coddled. 

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5–8
    • Height: 3–6 feet; occasionally 8 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 07 of 09

    Oriental Lilies (Lillium hybrids)

    Oriental lilies with pink and green coloring

    Michael Davis / Getty Images

    Oriental lilies, comprising Division 7, are similar to Asiatic lilies in form and color selection, but the perfume of the former is unparalleled, which helps gardeners forgive their finicky ways. They appreciate acidic soil, which you can achieve with the addition of organic materials like compost and leaf mold. Expect to see the first blooms of 'Stargazer' and other cultivars in August, when many other flowers are winding down for the season. Oriental lilies are hybrids, frequently with L. auratum (native to Japan) and L. speciosum (native to Japan and southern China) among the parents.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids; parent species are native to eastern Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–9
    • Height: 3–5 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • 08 of 09

    Interdivisional Lilies (Lillium hybrids)

    Interdivisional lily with peach and yellow petals
    Maria Mosolova / Getty Images

    Division 8 is a catch-all group of hybrid lilies derived from crossing parents in the other lily divisions. For example, LA lilies are hybrids resulting when L. longiflorum is crossed with Asiatic varieties, producing large, flattish flowers with a slight fragrance. Another Division 8 type, the Orienpet, has the perfume, tall stature, and color of Oriental lilies but the sturdy growth habit of trumpet lilies.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–9
    • Height: 3–6 feet (depends on variety)
    • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Species Lilies (Lillium spp.)

    Species lilies with speckled, multicolored flowers
    kororokerokero / Getty Images

    Finally, Division 9 includes species lilies: pure wild types that haven't been hybridized. The familiar wild tiger lily, for example, falls into this division. It's a widely naturalized species native to Asia, which has also widely naturalized in North America. Wild lily species are highly adaptable, as they come from swampy jungles, frigid mountains, and many habitats in between. The number of species lilies offered in the nursery trade varies, but, by seeking out specialty nurseries or connecting with members of lily societies, you can find flowers like Lilium aratum 'Gold Band.' It's possible that there are still undiscovered lily species growing in remote regions, waiting to lend their genetic material to the next great hybrid

    • Native Area: Varies by species
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–10 (varies by species)
    • Height: Varies by species
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade (varies by species)