Considerate Lilia

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

August 20, 2013

No, this note is not about a considerate lady named Lilia. The title is in Latin (considerate sorta rhymes with “a cup of latte”). So, as the many Latin scholars among our readers will have discerned, this post is about lilies. I’m talking about real lilies here, not Daylilies, of which more, farther on.


Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.”

The passage comes from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.1 The same basic text also shows up in St. Luke.2 The lily in question is probably Lilium candidum, the beautiful white Easter Lily native to the region.3

Lilium candidum (Digital commons)

These lilies were brought back to Western Europe by the crusaders, and from there have moved across the Atlantic to invade funeral parlors throughout North America.

Our mountain lilies are not white; they are orange, shading somewhat to red.

There really aren’t that many orange flowers.   My venerable A Field Guide to Wildflowers: Northeastern and North-central North America (Peterson Field Guides) dedicates a mere 4 pages (vice 48 pages of white, for comparison). Of those few, four are native lilies, of which we have three—all of which are breathtakingly beautiful.

The most common and by far the most superb is the Turk’s Cap Lily (Lilium superbum—appropriately enough).  My records for this species are all from the middle of July. I seem to find it in Goldilocks soil: not too wet, not too dry, not too light, not too sandy, but just right.

Turk's Cap Lily

Turk’s Cap Lily (Lilium superbum)

The second, is the Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum). I have only seen it a few times growing along State Forest roads on dry ground, always in mid-July.4

Woods Lily (Lilium philadelphium)

Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphium)

The third is the Canada Lily (Lilium canadense). This lily I generally find in shady wet ground. It seems to bloom earlier than the other two, usually in the first week of July.  According to my sources there are two subspecies of Canada Lily, and if I read the descriptions correctly, this one is the redder version, L. canadense editorum.5

Canada Lily (Lilium canadense)

Canada Lily (Lilium canadense)

The primary pollinators of the Woods and the Turks Cap Lilies are reported to be big butterflies, the swallowtails and the larger fritillaries. The Canada Lily, however, is primarily pollinated by hummingbirds—I’d pay money to see that.

You may also see the introduced Tiger Lily (Lilium lancifolium), which prowls about many a rural garden and out-building. It is easily differentiated by those little bulblets in the leaf axils.

Tiger Lily

Tiger Lily (non-native)

Last but not least, don’t confuse the true lilies with the aforementioned Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.), of which, by far, the most common is the Tawny Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva). Daylily leaves are in grass-like clumps, whereas our true lilies have leaves in whorls.

Daylilies are ubiquitous. If you plant them, they will take over.

I am not a fan.

In early days, Daylilies were planted around farmstead privies. As a result, my Amish friends refer to them as Outhouse Lilies—my less religious friends use a more earthy term.


Outhouse lily

While the lilies may not toil or spin, they do bob about in the slightest breeze.

The photographer’s choice is either to shoot with a flash, which gives a very disappointing color rendition, or to shoot at low shutter speeds and hope the wind stops—it seldom does.  

The best close-up I have ever managed for a lily, a Wood Lily, was an early evening in the Bald Eagle State Forest, the breeze was dying down for the night. The light was failing, and so was I. Only the very  last shot I took, at 1/8 of a second, is–acceptable.  

Wood Lily, close up

Wood Lily

The biblical example of the lilies of the field of the seems to me to be basically a discourse against dandyism. As Matthew has it, “Why take ye thought for raiment?

“Consider the lilies how the grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you…

Turk's Cap Lily

Turk’s Cap Lily

…Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”6.


  1. Matthew 6:28. This is the King James version (KJV). The Latin version is “considerate lilia agri quomodo crescunt non laborant nec nent.” []
  2. Luke 12:27. KJV []
  3. The Greek word is krinon, which specifically means lily, and L. candidum is native to Greece as well the Middle East. That said, it could just be a reference to wildflowers in general. []
  4. Sort of an aside, but the eFloras information on the ethnobotanical use of L. philadelphicum tickled me: “The Chippewa made a poultice that was applied to dog bites and caused the dog’s fangs to drop out. The Iroquois made a decoction of the whole plant to shed the placenta after childbirth, women used a decoction of the roots as a wash if the husband was unfaithful, and the whole plant was used as a romantic aid: if sun-dried plants twisted together, they signified a wife’s infidelity.” See Flora of North America, Vol. 26, p. 180 [] []
  5. There is some question about the validity of subspecies for L. canadense: “the increasingly refined attempts of the last 60 years to suitably characterize variation in this species suggest that is quite difficult or impossible to do so.”   See Flora of North America, Vol. 26, p. 196 [] []
  6. Luke []

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One Response

  1. Julie Zickefoose said:

    Now that is a beautiful post. I love how you interweave scripture with nature. You will no doubt note that I capitalized neither. :) Each time I pass in July and August, I look in vain for the lovely Canada lily that bloomed two years running on a semi-shaded slope just outside Whipple. As Mary Oliver put it:

    I have gone every day to the same woods,
    not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
    such gifts, bestowed,
    can’t be repeated.

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