Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Michaux's (Carolina) Lily - Lilium michauxii

Thanks to a reader of this blog, Ellen Honeycutt, I have corrected this post.  What I had previously identified from my recent photographs as Turkscap lily (L. superbum), is in fact Michaux's lily (L. michauxii).  Both lilies are species I am not well familiar with in the field, but I think I have them better sorted out now.  Thanks, Ellen!

Michaux's (or Carolina) lily (Lilium michauxii) is a rather common occurrence in the Southeast, but an exceedingly rare species in Florida. It has been reported only from four counties in Florida: Jackson, Gadsden, Walton, and Liberty Counties in mesic woodlands in the central panhandle and is listed here as a state endangered species. Carolina lily is at the southern end of its geographic range in Florida. It occurs north of us throughout much of the Southeast from Texas to Virginia.

I have never seen this species in Florida. These photos were taken in western North Carolina in the mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here, the plant is commonly seen on open and partly shady slopes in the understory of deciduous forests. Michaux's lily is somewhat similar to another even rarer Florida lily, turkscap lily (L. superbum), but there are some distinct differences.  Turkscap generally stands taller and produces multiple buds and flowers atop its stems.   Turkscap flowers also have a distinctive green "star" pattern inside the throat of the open flower - caused by a triangular green region at the base of each petal. These photos of one of the many Michaux's lilies I recently saw near Cullowhee, North Carolina, show the typical characteristics of this species: smaller stature and single flower atop the stem with no "star" pattern.  The leaves of both are also different.  Michaux's lily has thicker, "fleshier" leaves than turkscap.

Michaux's lily is a beautiful species, but I have always loved lilies in general. Mature specimens reach 2-4 feet in height by their mid-summer blooming time. Though deciduous during the winter, they reach their mature height quickly by early summer. The lanceolate leaves are whorled along the stem and come up nearly to the top; just beneath the buds.
Flowering occurs in the summer and can last for several weeks once it begins. The large buds are produced at the top of the stalks. This is a few-flowered species, like the also-rare panhandle lily (L. iridollae) I have written about previously.  Each plant produces 1 to several flowers per stem; rarely up to 4. These buds open into impressive bright orange flowers with dark spots near the throat. The flowers nod downwards and the petals curl backwards. Each flower may be 3-4 inches across and remains open for about a week. Lily flowers attract butterflies and bees.
Michaux's lily is offered for sale by several native plant sources outside of Florida, but has never been made available by any nursery that I am aware of from Florida. Although I have had success growing other native lilies at Hawthorn Hill, I have never been successful in getting my Michaux's to bloom. Perhaps part of that problem has been the source of my plants, but it also may be my inability to give it the conditions it needs. Each year, my bulbs emerge in the spring, but do little else.
As I grapple with trying to figure my own plants out, I maintain hope that this species will someday be propagated by a Florida native plant nursery. Our native lilies are not easy in a home landscape setting, but I have had success with Catesby's (L. catesbaei) and panhandle lilies by growing them in pots where I can better control light, moisture, and soil conditions.  Under such culture, they have proven to be excellent additions to my wildflower landscape and not that difficult.  If you are a lily admirer, it may be the your best approach as well.


  1. I also always look for the green "star" in the center of the L. superbum flower, caused by green color at the base of the petal. The picture you show is absent that star. Perhaps that is not always an indicator .... But given the apparent height of the plant you found and the fact that it was only a single flower, is it possible that you found L. michauxii? Where the leaves thick and fleshy or thin? Both species are found in that area of NC, but if you photographed this during late July, that would match more closely the bloom time of L. michauxii.

  2. Ellen-
    I grappled with that for those reasons. You may well be right and I will take a cloer look at the photos I took. I mostly went by the leaf differences that Wunderlin seems to use to separate the two species in his key. Perhaps that is not a reliable indicator. Thanks for your post.

  3. After all I have learned from you, I am happy to contribute what I know of these two lilies.


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