Plant of the Week

Map of the United States showing states. States are colored green where the species may be found.
Range map of Western lily. Map from USDA PLANTS Database.

Close-up of  flower.
Western Lily (Lilium occidentale). Photo by Jennie Sperling.

Western lily in the forest.
Western Lily (Lilium occidentale). Photo by Dave Imper.

Western Lily (Lilium occidentale Purdy)

By Russell Holmes

Western lily is in the Liliaceae (lily family) which contains 478 species in North America and approximately 4200 species worldwide. A diverse plant family, Liliaceae has been divided into as many as 30 separate families, includes numerous important ornamentals, a number of important agricultural crops, and has been the source of valuable pharmacopoeia. The family has a near worldwide distribution but most species grow in tropical areas. Western lily is a narrow endemic species that is restricted to the immediate coast of northern California and southern Oregon.

Western lily is a showy perennial 40 to 180 cm (16 to 72 inches) tall. Leaves are scattered or more typically, arranged in whorls, elliptic, linear, or lanceolate in shape, and up to 26 cm (10.4 inches) long and 3 cm (1.2 inches) wide. The inflorescence contains few to as many as 35 pendant (drooping) flowers that are deep red to orange, grading to yellow-green, or green at the base and throat, which is also covered with purple dots. Perianth segments are typically 4 to 8 cm (1.6 to 3.2 inches) long and strongly recurved. The stamens and pistil are exerted past the recurved petals. The stamens are slightly longer than the pistil and support red, orange, or magenta anthers.

Habitat ranges from coastal prairies and scrub in California to the margins of coastal bogs in Oregon. Elevation ranges up to 100 m (320 feet) within 6 km (3.7 miles) of the ocean. Associated species include Pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum), evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum), bog labador tea (Ledum groenlandicum), red alder (Alnus rubra), and Columbia lily (Lilium columbianum) with which it sometimes hybridizes.

Western lily was discovered in the late 19th century when Carl Purdy employed Native Americans to collect bulbs of lilies and other plants growing in the region. Purdy published the species in 1897 and it quickly became a popular ornamental. Populations soon declined from over-collecting; and over time, much of the habitat was lost to ecological succession and land conversion. Few populations remain today and the species is listed as federally endangered.

For More Information: PLANTS Profile - Lilium occidentale, Western lily

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