The Plant Native

Native Lilies: A Beginner’s Guide

Highlights

There are hundreds of lilies worldwide, with flower colors that span the rainbow. Twenty-two lily species are native to North America, alongside a handful of other native flowers that go by the ‘lily’ moniker. These native lily flowers offer beauty, resiliency, and minimal care. Read on to meet some native favorites for your landscape.

Full Sun – Part Shade
1-10′ tall, depending on species
Pollinator favorite
Most in Lilium genus
Glacier Lilies are some of the first flowers to bloom after the snows recede in the Northwest

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native lilies

Table of Contents

There are around a hundred lily species worldwide—and even thousands if we include lily cultivars. Lilies are mainstays of gardening for a reason: most species’ flowers last for a long time, and their blooms are bright and gorgeous.

What are the benefits of planting native lilies?

As you add and plant flowers in your garden, think about adding some native lilies to the mix. Planting native lilies has lots of benefits, including:

  • Native plants have the DNA to thrive in their home area. Once they are established, all they need is rain to thrive.
  • Native plants are the best food and support for birds, butterflies, and native wildlife.
  • Native plants are GORGEOUS! They’ve been overlooked for way too long. Visit our native plant library to find favorites.
You know it's spring in the Northeast and Midwest when the Trout Lilies appear

Since lilies are everywhere, you’re probably wondering how to tell native lilies from non-native lilies. Here’s what makes native lilies unique:

Similarities between native lilies

No matter the species or location, native lilies share a few common characteristics:

  1. Native lilies need drainage. Native lilies do not like sitting in waterlogged areas. There are lots of places that will answer this need: think hillsides or sloped areas, raised beds, containers, etc.
  2. Native lily flowers point downwardsexcept for the Wood Lily. Think of them like flower-bells.

How do I know if the lily in my garden is native or not?

Already have lilies in your garden and wondering if they’re native? Look at the way the flowers point. If the flower points upwards—unless it looks like the Wood Lily—it’s non-native.

Non-native Lilies

Non-native lilies point upwards

Do your flowers point upwards? Lilies that point upwards are from Asia unless they look like the Wood Lily (see below).

Native Lilies

Turk's Cap Lily is a MUST for gardners

If the flowers point downwards—you may have a native lily! Download a plant app and snap a picture to find which species you have. (There are a few Asiatic species that point downward, too.)

Native Lily Species

Scroll on to meet several native lilies that thrive in North American gardens. We’ve organized generally by region, starting with the Eastern United States.

Native Lilies for the Eastern Seaboard

Wood Lily's brightly colored petals end with dark purple spots towards the center

Wood Lily

Lilium philadelphicum

Wood Lilies’ petal color ranges from red to orange, with dark purple spots on the interior of the flower. They are stunning up close—like miniature modernist paintings. These are the only native lilies with flowers that point up (the others’ flowers hang down.) Wood Lily’s native range is large: from the Mid-Atlantic to the Midwest.

1-3′ feet in height, Wood Lily grows in a wide range of moisture (wet to dry), prefers well-drained areas, and is drought-tolerant once established. Pair with Butterfly Weed, Blazing Star, and asters.

YEP. You need one (or a few) of these

Turk’s Cap Lily

Lilium superbum

You have to have this flower once you’ve seen it. Turk’s Cap puts out a chandelier of orange lily flowers, each appearing hand-painted with tiny spots. You can’t walk by without taking a picture.

Turks Cap Lily grows 4-10 feet (making it the tallest of North American lilies.) But WOW—if you have the space—plant some immediately. Native from New Hampshire down to Florida, and west to Arkansas.

Trout Lily appears, flowers, and disappears all within a month in the spring

Trout Lily

Erythronium americanum

Trout Lilies have beautiful tiny flowers in the early spring, surrounded by intricately dappled green leaves. (The name ‘trout’ comes from this speckling.) 

Trout Lilies are some of the earliest plants to flower in the Northeast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic. They also appear like magic: putting out leaves, blooming, and then disappearing—all within a month. But don’t worry: they’ll be back again next spring to perform the trick again. (Plants that appear/disappear in the spring are called ephemerals.) Trout Lilies will easily spread when in moist, rich soil.

Canada Lily has beautiful yellow flowers that hang down like a skirt, or a bell

Canada Lily

Lilium canadense

This image makes it look a little underwhelming…but Canada Lily can have up to 20 FLOWERS on a single plant! These are beautiful plants that reach 2-4′.

Although Canada Lily is native to a wide range of North America—from the Northeast to the Midwest—these are difficult to find in nurseries. So if you do find some—scoop them up and find a spot in your garden!

Now, let’s head over to the western side of North America and meet some of the lilies that call the Northwest and California home.

Native Lilies for the Northwest + Calfornia

Glacier Lily's highlighter-yellow flowers are a welcome sight after months of snow in the Northwest

Glacier Lily

Erythronium grandiflorum

Glacier Lily also goes by the common names Yellow Fawn Lily, Yellow Avalanche Lily, Snow Lily, and Lamb’s Tongue. As you can guess from the name—these lilies are some of the very first flowers to bloom after the snow melts in the Northwest.

Glacier Lily’s bright yellow flowers are a welcome sight after months of snow, and they can blanket fields in the wilderness with their vibrant beauty. Great pairings include Red Columbine, Blazing Stars, and Trout Lilies.

Chocolate Lily's beautiful flowers hang down, sheltering pollinators as they tumble in the pollen

Chocolate Lily

Fritillaria biflora

Native to California, this diminutive flower blooms in the spring and then dies back when temperatures rise in the summer. Its dark chocolate brown flowers are unlike anything else in the garden.

Chocolate Lilies like morning sun, but not blazing afternoon sun. Plant it alongside flowers that bloom later in the summer to have a gorgeous garden and food for pollinators—California Poppies are excellent pairings.

Wild Tiger Lily is a must for western gardens

Wild Tiger Lily

Lilium columbianum

This native flower also goes by the common name Columbian Lily. No matter what you call it, it’s a must for Northwest and California gardens. You’ll know it by its explosion of dark purple-ish freckles scattered across its bright orange flowers, which wrap upwards like a turban.

At its happiest, it can get up to 6′ tall (otherwise it’s a smaller 1-2′.) Wild Tiger Lily blooms for a long time—from May to early August. 

Hmm…are these all lilies?

Plant nerds may be saying—hey…some of these flowers are not in the Lilium genus. And they’re right—some are not. But the purpose of The Plant Native is to make native gardening a little easier to understand. So we’ve included some plants outside of the Lilium genus that also go by the common name ‘lily.’

And we stand by the opinion that you don’t have to memorize Latin to get into native gardening.

Are native lilies hard to grow?

There are some gardeners and gardening books that say that native lilies are much harder to grow than non-native, Asian lilies.

We all lived through a pandemic—we don’t have to be afraid of flowers

Don’t be intimidated! Remember: native plants plant themselves, with no human intervention. If they can plant themselves, we can plant them too.

(Also—give yourself more credit. Remember when we were washing the groceries and homeschooling our kids in 2020? You got this.)

Tips for native lily success

The best bet to ensure your native lilies thrive is to:

  • Buy or get native lilies from reputable sources: native plant society sales, local nurseries, etc.
  • Ensure you’re planting them in an environment they like (if they don’t like full sun or don’t like to be waterlogged…respect their needs and stay away from those areas)
  • Drainage, drainage, drainage: a common killer of native lilies is root rot
  • BE PATIENT. Native lilies get a bad reputation at times because it can take a few seasons for them to grow to their most spectacular. But once they’re happy, they will come back for years and years (even decades.)

Where can I find native lilies for my garden?

We’re not going to lie—finding native plants can be challenging. Most conventional nurseries don’t stock native plants (or mainly stock native cultivars).

To make finding native lilies easier, here are four tried-and-true ways to find some for your garden:

Native Lilies: A Beginner’s Guide

Where can I find seeds and plants?

Finding native plants can be challenging (we partly blame Marie Antoinette.) To make it easier, we’ve assembled four sourcing ideas.

Native Plant Nurseries

Our list of native nurseries makes finding one a breeze

Online Communities

Local Facebook groups are a great plant source

What are good pairings for native lilies?

There are so many beautiful, resilient, and fuss-free native plants to pair with native lilies. Your best bet is to visit our regional guides to find pairings that get you inspired:

Native plants that grow almost anywhere

Some native plants with huge ranges are perfect for native landscaping. Some all-time favorite native plants that thrive in most of North America include:

Heuchera 'Green-Spice' by Patrick Standish

Alum Root (Heuchera)

black-eyed-susans-native-flower-garden

Black-Eyed Susan

coneflower-native-plant-swallowtail-butterfly

Coneflower

monarch-butterfly-on-a-common-milkweed-plant

Milkweed

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Viburnum

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Winterberry

And now you’ve met some native North American lilies! These resilient, gorgeous flowers are musts for American and Canadian gardens. Let’s move away from the non-native lily species and instead plant these native options, making our garden a fuss-free pollinator paradise—especially compared to lawns. Happy planting!

Wondering about other native/non-native plants in our gardens? Explore some of our beginner guides to landscaping favorites:

UPDATED —
04/14/2024
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