Tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium or L. tigrinum) is an herbaceous perennial that grows from bulbs that produce strappy leaves and long stalks yielding colorful, stately flowers in the summertime. You can plant the bulbs in the fall or spring and expect blooms by mid-to-late summer. The orange flower petals are recurved and are speckled with dark spots. The plants are especially eye-catching when you group a few bulbs together or use them as a border. It is a more profuse bloomer than most lilies, producing as many as ten flowers per stem.
In the official classification system of garden lilies, tiger lily falls into the Division 9 group, which includes other pure species. However, L. lancifolium has been long cultivated for its edible bulbs and is probably the result of centuries-old breeding rather than a naturally occurring species. The flowers are also edible, but the pollen may be slightly toxic to humans. All parts of the plant are dangerously poisonous for cats.
|Botanical Name||Lilium lancifolium (also known as L. tigrinum)|
|Common Name||Tiger lily|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||3–5 feet tall, spread of 7–8 inches|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Loamy, moist, well-draining|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 6.5 (slightly acidic)|
|Flower Color||Orange; red, yellow, white, and pink hybrids also available|
|Hardiness Zones||3–9 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Eastern Asia|
|Toxicity||Toxic to cats; pollen may be mildly toxic to humans and other animals|
Tiger Lily Care
Indigenous to Asia, tiger lily plants can be grown in USDA planting zones 3 to 9. Due to their hardiness, they've become naturalized plants throughout much of the New England region in the United States and are frequently seen along roadways. The bulbs will come back year after year with little effort on your part, and they'll likely spread to form clumps. You also can grow these flowers in a cutting garden or in containers.
The key is to plant your tiger lilies in a spot with good drainage, as a waterlogged area can rot the bulbs. Then, over the first few years, water your lilies regularly until their root system has matured. After that, they can better tolerate some drought and are fairly low maintenance plants.
Foliage on the lower part of the stalks will die first (in late summer). These yellow leaves won't be as noticeable if the plants are growing in the back row of a garden bed. Once all of the leaves have yellowed by late fall cut the stalks down to ground level, and dispose of them.
Like many flowers, tiger lilies prefer to grow in a sunny location. However, these tough specimens are not nearly as fussy about growing conditions as many flowers are. They will tolerate partial shade and can actually benefit when shaded from the hot afternoon sun.
To ensure proper soil drainage for the bulbs, you might need to amend your soil with compost or humus. Peat moss, sand, or straw mixed into the beds are also options to improve drainage and retain appropriate moisture. Otherwise, tiger lilies can tolerate various soil types, though they prefer soil that's fairly fertile and slightly acidic.
Tiger lilies have average water needs. Mature plants can tolerate some drought, but they still prefer consistent watering. If your area gets regular rainfall, that should be enough to keep them happy. If the soil is very dry, you'll probably need to water your plants.
Temperature and Humidity
Tiger lilies begin to grow in the spring after the last frost and go dormant in the fall and winter. As long as you're within their growing zones, the temperature shouldn't be an issue. The bulbs can survive freezing temperatures in the ground, but they'll benefit from a couple of inches of mulch over their planting site to insulate them.
The plants grow well in both humid and dry environments, provided the soil moisture is appropriate.
Tiger lilies don't need much fertilizer. A layer of compost around the base of the plants once or twice a year should provide all of the nutrition they require. Mulch in late spring to keep the roots cool during the summer. If you do wish to encourage more flowering, you can use a 5-10-5 fertilizer. When growing these plants in alkaline soils, feeding with an acidifying fertilizer may help.
Is Tiger Lily Toxic?
Although the bulbs and flowers of tiger lily are quite edible for humans (the plant was likely bred for that purpose), the pollen may be mildly toxic to humans and animals. The story is different for cats, for whom all parts of the plant are seriously poisonous.
Symptoms of Poisoning
Ingestion of tiger lily pollen in quantity has been known to cause vomiting in humans and animals. For cats, tiger lily is quite seriously toxic. Even small ingestion of a petal, leaf, pollen—or even water from a vase of cut flowers—can result in acute kidney failure. Symptoms of toxicity include lethargy, vomiting, and a lack of appetite. If you suspect your cat has ingested any part of one of these lilies, bring the cat (and the plant) immediately to a veterinarian for medical care. Generally, the sooner treatment is started, the better the prognosis.
Related Lily Species
The familiar orange tiger lily is a pure species that has no named cultivars. However, L. lancifolium has been crossed with other species to create red, white, and yellow versions. These are often unnamed cultivars, but they all have the characteristic black or brown spots on petals that curve backward sharply. These two characteristics are not found together on any of the other type of lily.
There are also many other related species and hybrids within the genus Lilium. Fortunately, they do not all bloom at once. Rather, they disperse their vibrant colors and bold floral shapes across June, July, and August. This makes them valued allies for gardeners who demand a colorful variety of flowers throughout the summer months. There are nine individual classes of lilies within the official classification system, but most gardeners will find their needs met by these three types:
- Asiatic hybrids: These lilies generally flower in June into July, producing displays in red, orange, yellow, white, pink, and more. These are very durable, easy-to-grow plants that will multiply and spread with little effort. These lilies fall into Division 1 in the official classification system.
- Easter lilies (Longiflorum hybrids): These lilies are often forced into early bloom in pots for early spring celebrations. When planted in the garden—or if potted plants are kept for continued growth— they usually bloom in mid-summer. These lilies belong to Division 5, featuring trumpet-shaped, brilliantly white flowers.
- Oriental hybrids: Oriental hybrids, such as the famous stargazer lily, generally begin blooming mid-to-late summer and feature large flowers in rich colors. These are somewhat more delicate plants than the Asiatic lilies, and the bulbs may lose their vigor after a few years, requiring replanting. But the flowers are spectacular, and many offer a spicy scent that is almost as dramatic as they look. Oriental lilies fall into Division 7 of the official classification system.
Propagating Tiger Lilies
Tiger lilies can be an aggressively invasive species in some regions and may take over your garden if you let them. If you want to propagate your lilies, you can do so with bulbils (small plants that form on the parent plant) or by bulb division. Ideally, this should be done in spring before the season's growth picks up, but you also can divide them in the fall in warmer climates.
Bulb division requires carefully digging up the entire plant when it is dormant and gently separating the individual bulbs. Replant your bulbs as separate plants with the pointed side aimed upward.
Bulbils form along the stem of the plant at leaf axils. If you wish to minimize spreading, remove the bulbils and dispose of them. Or if you wish to propagate, you can carefully remove the bulbils and pot them. Bulbils will take an extra year of growth before they begin to bloom.
Common Pests/ Diseases
Tiger lilies are a resilient species and aren't very susceptible to disease. However, they can harbor viruses, such as lily mosaic virus, that can harm other types of lilies. If you suspect this disease, the plant and bulbs should be pulled and destroyed (don't add the material to a compost bin).
Red lily beetles (Lilioceris lilii) and aphids can be problematic pests for the lilies. So treat your plants as soon as possible if you notice the leaves are being damage.
Lilium lancifolium (Tiger Lily). North Carolina University Extension
Lilium lancifolium (Tiger Lily). Missouri Botanical Garden
Lovely Lilies and Curious Cats: A Dangerous Combination. U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Lilium. Missouri Botanical Garden
Lilium. Missouri Botanical Garden