Treasuring Wild Lilies

Photo credit: Ryan Hagerty/USFWS

Photo credit: Ryan Hagerty/USFWS

Across North America, wild lilies are roughing it out in remote wilderness areas and in ditches alongside busy highways. Vibrant and diverse, they can also be found in bogs, evergreen forests and rocky mountain slopes. I like to think of these flowers as true survivors and they are, at least some of the time.

The turk's cap lily (Lilium superbum) and prairie lily (Lilium philadelphicum) are both common in parts of the United States and Canada but there are others that are disappearing because of urban development and agriculture. In Oregon, the western lily (Lilium occidentale) has been losing habitat for decades.

The mass conversion of land to grow cranberries led to this lily being listed as an endangered species in 1994. Factors including overgrazing from animals (eg deer and cattle), the flooding of wetlands and bulb collecting have also had long-term effects on these plants.

The panhandle lily (Lilium iridollae) and Sandhills lily (Lilium pyrophilum) are two lilies that are threatened by fire suppression. As strange as it may sound, they actually need fire to live. Just like fire-dependent tree species such as the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and lodgepole pines (Pinus contorta), fire is a necessary and routine part of living in the wild.

Several labels are used to define native plants, from salvage restricted and special concern, to vulnerable, threatened and endangered. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an endangered lily is "a species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or significant part of its range". A threatened lily is "likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range."

All wild lilies are beautiful in their own right. To me, they really are one of nature's treasures and worth thinking about as something special.

Angela Gnyp