by Roy Lukes

Rare Wood Lilies Should Be Left Alone

Wood lilies
Flowers are loveliest where they grow. Love them, enjoy them, but leave them so.

There is a spectacular perennial native wildflower, soon to bloom, that is highly welcome on the scene because it comes at a time when the early parade of wildflowers has passed. This stately orange flower lifts its head to the sky and deservedly attracts a great deal of attention. The Canadian province of Saskatchewan has chosen this beauty as their floral emblem, the wood lily.

One name Iíve heard some people call it is the tiger lily, simply because it does somewhat resemble the wood lily. Ordinarily you think of the tiger lily as being a popular garden flower. The dark spots on the inner surfaces of the petals of the tiger lily led to its name, even though I think of a tiger as having stripes rather than spots.

Observe the placement of the tiger lilyís leaves, scattered randomly on its stem, and then compare this arrangement to those on the wood lily. The upper leaves of a wood lily are attached to the stem as a whorl, while the lower leaves are scattered along the stem, similar to all of the leaves on a tiger lily.

Some also call the wood lily the day lily. Yes the day lily does grow upward but it has no interior spots as does the wood lily, and its leaves, like those of the tiger lily, are randomly scattered along the stem.

The wood lily is the only native lily I know of whose funnel-shaped perianth (PEAR-ee-anth), or floral envelope consisting of all of the calyx and corolla together, is aimed upward toward its zenith and is heavily spotted within. Look downward and into the reddish-orange perianth and you will see dark purple to black spots near the bases of the three petals and three sepals. Actually the petals and sepals appear to be very similar and are referred to by botanist as tepals (TEE-pals).

The flower lacks scent, a feature it really doesnít need in light of the excellent target the black spots provide for its pollinators. Iíve observed both butterflies and skippers visiting wood lilies. Their long coiled tongues, when extended, can easily reach the nectar contained in the envelope-like folds at the bases of the tepals.

What continues to amaze me is the ability of the wood lilyís vivid chalice to remain upright, strong and fresh-appearing despite the hot dry weather it must endure in many of its preferred habitats. The sunny openings and edges of dry woods suit this brilliant wildflower to perfection.

There is another rare lily native to the state, most likely to be observed in the southern counties, the turkís-cap lily. Its perianth, rather than being upright like that of the wood lily, hangs downward and its six tepals are very strongly recurved, the tips often turned back beyond the base of the perianth. Iíve observed this rare beauty growing wild in only one place in my home Kewaunee County, along the right-of-way of the old Kewaunee-Green Bay and Western Railroad tracks west of the city. Iíve also heard it called the Michigan lily because its scientific name is Lilium michiganense (mi-shi-ga- NEN-see). The wood lilyís scientific name is Lilium philadelphicum, obviously honoring the city of Philadelphia.

The wood lily, uncommon and uncommonly beautiful, is not without its enemies, one of the most notorious being the white-tailed deer. These all-too-abundant and difficult-to-manage animals surely do have a well-honed appetite for many species in the large lily family, including the wood lily

. Fire suppression is another. Small forest fires through the centuries helped maintain fairly open understories in many woods, thereby providing both wood lilies and wildlife with precisely the much-needed requirements for their success. The "Smoky The Bear" story, so firmly drilled into the heads of children from cradle onward, largely helped the forest industry but in turn has done great harm to many wild plant and animal populations.

Picking and digging by people continues to threaten many Midwestern populations. No other species of wildflower gave me as many headaches, while managing the Ridges Sanctuary, as did the ill-informed people who picked so many dozens of the wood lilies. One experience remains with me as though it took place yesterday. My partner, Bob Lee, and I were bringing a large group of people down the Ridges Drive to show them our best display of early July orchids and wood lilies.

I noticed that Miss Emma Toft has stopped her car about a hundred yards down the road ahead of us and had gone wheeling after some photographers disrespecting orchids along the roadside. Just then a huge shiny out-of-state Cadillac pulled off to the side of the road fifty or so yards ahead of Emma. A man, lady and little girl scooted across the road and returned to the car each carrying a bouquet of wood lilies and coreopsis. YIKES! Ė and off toward the village they went, with me after them.

Emma told me to take her car and off I drove in pursuit of the pickers. Fortunately they had parked at the side of the street in front of the Baileys Harbor town hall. All three were in the car with the poor frightened girl all by herself in the back seat, holding the entire bouquet of about 50 flowers.

For once in my life words came to me when I was steaming mad. They had thought everyone along the road was out picking flowers, there were so growing there. No, they had not considered the possibility that someone owned the land and the plants growing on it. Nor did they realize that picking the wood lilies at ground level would most surely kill the plants.

I donít know how much I impressed the adults in the car, but I rather doubt if one particular little girl, throughout her life, will ever pick somebody elseís flowers, including wood lilies!


This column appeared in the Door County Advocate on 06/19/2004.
© Copyright 2004 Roy Lukes. All rights reserved.