Not Every Lily Is A Lily

My garden is full of flowers that we call lilies. There are tiger lilies, blackberry lilies, August lilies, toad lilies, surprise lilies, rain lilies, and daylilies blooming today. But what's in a name?


That's what in a name.

These are not all lilies!

Can you tell which are truly lilies and which aren't?

Let's start off with this Tiger Lily.
Yes, this really is a lily, Lilium tigrinum. It is a lily because it is a member of the Liliaceae family of plants.

How about this daylily, Hemerocallis sp.?
It looks rather lily-like but looks can be deceiving! It isn't a lily at all!

It's a member of the Hemerocallidaceae family of plants.

To be fair to those who thought for sure this was a lily, you might just be "old-school". At one time, the daylily was included in the Liliaceae family.

But now that it is in the Hemerocallidaceae family, maybe we should call it a "hemi" as in "dayhemi". After all with tens of thousands of cultivars and hybrids, it has the "power" to suck in many gardeners who then plant hundreds of them in their gardens.

(I'll pause for you to consider how I've managed to use "hemi" and "power" in the same sentence on a gardening blog.)

Moving on...

How about this August lily, Hosta sp?
Surely, it is a lily!?

But guess what? Just like the daylilies, excuse me, dayhemies, the Hostas have also been moved out of the Liliaceae family. They are now in the Agavaceae family.

So this August Lily is not a lily at all! It's more closely related to agaves.

And here I didn't think I much cared for Agaves! Well, I still don't care for the plants in the genus Agave, but I do like plants in the genus Hosta.

How about this surprise lily, Lycoris squamigera?
Some people call these resurrection lilies and others call them nekkid ladies because they bloom without leaves. (By the way, we genteel garden bloggers spell "nekkid" that way on purpose so that we don't end up being read by people who are looking for something other than flowers.)

But surprise! I am now exposing these surprise lilies as a fraud of a lily! They are not lilies at all. They are in the family Amaryllidaceae and have more in common with the Amaryllis that bloomed last week in my house than they have in common with any lily.

And just so you know, the Rain Lily, Zephyranthes sp. seems to be yet another member of the Amaryllidaceae family impersonating a lily.

All these frauds!

But what about the Toad Lilies, Tricyrtis hirta?
Thank goodness, we can trust the toad lilies because they are in the Liliaceae family.

But can we trust them? The toad lilies aren't supposed to bloom until late September at the earliest, but they are blooming now. Just what are they up to? I don't trust them. Someone ought to hop to it on that question and find out what's going on with these early blooming toad lilies.

Finally, what about the blackberry lily, Belamcanda chinensis?
Can we trust it as being in the Liliaceae family, since it bears the common name of Lily?

No, it is no lily at all! It is in the Iridaceae family. In fact, some sources indicate that those who name plants have changed the blackberry lily's botanical name to...

Iris domestica!

Maybe we should learn to call this flower a blackberry iris?

So what have we learned from all these faux lilies?

- That the world of common plant names is full of deception and intrigue? Well, yes, we did learn that.

- That plant taxonomists like to make up new plant families just to make it all more interesting? I don't think they do it to make it more interesting, per se. I think they do it more to disambiguate the plant world. (I've been itching to use the word "disambiguate" on my blog for days now. And yes, I'm stretching the meaning of the word just a little bit.)

- That Carol has many lily like flowers blooming right now? Yes, that is true.

- That a rose may be a rose but a lily may not always be a lily?

Wait, a rose may not be a rose, if you consider the Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus. It is not in the Rosaceae family at all. It's in the Malvaceae family...

I'll stop there before I fall head first into the abyss of plant taxonomy and lose every reader I've ever had.


  1. Thanks for the disambiguating. I enjoyed it, and learned from it. I'm glad I read about the spelling of the nekkid ladies. I have been wondering if mine are going to bloom this year. The leaves came up last year and this year but it hasn't bloomed yet.

  2. I wouldn't have guess that Toadlilies were true lilies... Until I got lily beetles munching on them a few years ago!! Mine look like they'll open within a few days as well. There will be nothing left flowering in the fall at this rate...

  3. You don't like agaves? Noooo!!!!

    We'll blame your dislike of agaves on lack of exposure.

  4. No Fritillaria in your garden, Carol? They are also in the Lily family.

  5. My Nekkid ladies are blooming but the Toad lilies are not. Your desertation regarding lilies is great. I hadn't thought that through before. The flower world is full of those types of people that like to change names etc just as the birding world is full of ornithologists that love to lump and separate birds. It is difficult to keep up with it all.

  6. When I worked in an historic garden, one of the gardeners was an elderly woman who insisted on putting anything with lily as a common name in the lily bed, When I explained about family names, she ordered me to "Talk American!" I finally gave up and would use that bed to explain taxonomy to visitors who were interested.

  7. Missed the memo on Hosta being moved into Agavaceae. Seems like not playing fair to move things around without also renaming them.

    We can expect continual change from improvements in genetic testing and sequencing. What are your favorite online references for keeping track of taxonomical changes?

  8. I always wondered whethe the Asiatic lilies are true lilies?

  9. You've made a liar out of me Carol. I made a comment last week about not particularly caring for lilies and what do I find on your lily list but one of my all time favourite plants, toad lily! I'll have to be more careful about what I say in future.

  10. I didn't realize that that was why genteel gardeners spelled nekkid that way! I use the other less genteel name all the time for my beauties, and I have not noticed that this drives more people to my blog, worse luck.

    I truly enjoyed this post. It is amazing how many things are called "lily" when you start listing them. I love my blackberry Iris/lily, they are spectacular right now.

    And you are right, the dayhemis definitely have the power to suck gardeners in, I can feel that gravitational pull even as I type. I don't have enough varieties, there are purple ones out there I don't have . . . stop, stop! I'm falling!

    Thank you for the very interesting taxonomy lesson. I like the way you wrapped it up in humor and imagination.

  11. I look forward to the day when they've done all the genetic decoding, and stop switching things around. I really hope to see that in my lifetime.

    What will the botanists do with themselves then?


  12. Like Xris, I missed the memo about hostas in the agave family. Who'd a thunk it? And this post reminded me of my late FIL, who insisted on calling the roadside daylilies tiger lilies. He would smile in amusement if I tried to correct him. Like Earth Girl, I knew when I was licked and quit fighting that battle.

  13. This was really interesting! I never really thought about the generous use of the word lily for flowers that are not.

  14. I love that you explained this. I was having an issue with my relative to the "Blackberry Iris" that is in my garden… I remember when I ordered it online it had "lily" in the name, but it confused the heck out of me that it was called lily but didn't look like one to me.

    Now to just find out if what I have it the Blackberry Iris or it's cousin… mine seem to have deeper shades of purple/magenta to them… They are pictured on the header to my garden blog (marsha's garden blog).

  15. Plant taxonomists may be attempting to disambiguate plants but they are discombobulating me:) Here I thought I was a lily-lover, but I'm actually a lily-hemi-iris lover. Maybe this is why I still haven't learned many of the botanical names.

  16. Your "August lily" is Hosta plantaginea, with the wonderfully scented blooms. I also missed the memo re: Hostas are now Agaves. I grew up calling the Hemerocallis ditch lilies "tiger lilies" like Kathy's dad. I don't know where that came from.

  17. "A lily by any other [taxonomic] name would smell as sweet". What's important is that all the flowers you posted about are very lovely, and thus qualify for the common name "lily". Just my humble opinion, as a lily in the Homo sapiens family. ;-)

  18. What a useful and fascinating post. And I appreciate the tip about using the word 'nekkid'.


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