by Ray Allen
Here's the REAL Tiger Lily, even though millions of people call various other spotted orange ones by the same name. Want to get it straight? Well, this tough, easy-to-grow beauty is the real thing: With large, down-facing flowers & recurved petals, it's the big one on a tall stalk up to 5 ft. with glossy green leaves and brown mini-bulbs (bulbils) forming in the leaf axils.
No other lily is a tiger lily. The name began for obvious reasons, and even the Latin name cooperated--the name of this wild one, that's native to the Far East, was always Lilium tigrinum. In more recent years, the botanical authorities changed it to L. lancifolium, but even many experts continue to use the familiar "tigrinum", and of course the common name goes on an on.
Today, Tiger Lilies have been bred away from traditional orange, and are available in many appealing colors. But that doesn't mean that non-Tiger Lilies aren't still being regularly mistaken for the real deal.
Tiger Lilies and Mistaken Identity
Even the Old Roadside Daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, now common in all 50 states (left)--the one that lit up your grandmother's garden, is called "Tiger Lily" by mistaken gardeners. Now, most people know that daylilies aren't true lilies at all, and send up lots of stems from a grass-like plant, not growing the tall single stalk of the true lilies. Still, it seems almost any orange lily-like flower is fated to be called "Tiger Lily" by some. And who cares? Like so many things in botany and gardening, it's the growing that counts. People continue to grow the flowers they like and call them whatever they please.Other lilies often mistaken for the true Tiger Lily:
Forever, the common name "Tiger Lily" has been applied to other lilies. For example, the beautiful, tall wild Canada Lily, L. canadense, is often called Tiger Lily since it's orange--but look closely, and you'll see it's totally different.
Canada Lilies are commonly found growing in wet woods all over the northern east and midwest. With a central stem up to 10 feet, the down-facing flowers are only about 3" long - far from the true tiger lily bloom which can reach 8" across.
The magnificent Leopard Lily, L. pardalinum, which is native to our own Pacific coast is also often mistaken for a Tiger Lily. Note the golden centers, making it very different from the real tiger.
Meanwhile, the old true Tiger Lily is a still a part of the diet in much of the Orient--the cooked buds being a staple of old recipes. And they're still champions in the garden, too--super-hardy in cold, growing in shade or sun, and pleasing everyone everywhere when they open those magnificent blooms all summer.