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The 9 Divisions of Garden Lilies

The name "lily" is frequently used among flower gardeners. The Lilium genus, on the other hand, refers to a group of perennial plants that includes popular cut flowers such as the Easter lily and the well-known 'Stargazer' lily. However, many plants with the word "lily" in their common name are not real lilies.

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While daylilies, toad lilies, peace lilies, and water lilies have many appealing qualities, they are not real lilies. True lilies are perennial plants that sprout from bulbs and have a distinctive scale structure and enormous blossoms. The genus contains around 80 species, although the majority of the plants planted in gardens are hybrid crossings of diverse native species—or cultivars created from those hybrids.

Garden lilies are divided into nine horticultural divisions by the North American Lily Society. The next nine lily categories are sure to feature your new favorite, even if they aren't all prevalent in the nursery trade.

1. Lilies of Asia (Lillium hybrids)

Asiatic lilies, such as the 'Lollypop' cultivar, are one of the most popular lily divisions because they are one of the easiest to grow for beginners. Asiatic lilies are classified as Division 1 in the official horticulture categorization system. The flowers are generally odorless, but the spectrum of hues available more than compensates for this drawback.

Flowers bloom in June and July, and they might face up, down, or outward. Although container gardens aren't prevalent, dwarf Asiatics, such as the 12-inch-high 'Buff Pixie,' will thrive in them. Genetic crossings of lilies endemic to eastern and central Asia, as well as interspecific hybrids of those species, produce Asiatic lilies.

  • Native Area: Nursery hybrids from eastern and central Asia; progenitor species are native to the region.
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3–8
  • 1–5 feet in height
  • Exposure to the sun: full sun to partial shade

2. Turkscap Lilies, Martagon Hybrids (Lilium martagon x)

In the categorization system, Martagon hybrid lilies are classified as Division 2. L. martagon is one of the most common genetic parents for hybrids, hence the name. Martagon hybrids are challenging to grow, but the ethereal 5- to 6-foot wands of mature plants are well worth the effort. The form of the blooms has earned these hybrids the moniker Turks cap lilies.

Plant them in the fall in a sheltered place with good drainage, and fragrant blossoms should appear in May or June. Because these are the most shade-tolerant garden lilies, they should be planted near the edge of a woodland garden, away from competing for tree roots. Because martagons don't transplant well, choose your place carefully.

  • Native Range: Nursery hybrids; parent species are Asian and European natives.
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3–9
  • 3–6 feet in height
  • Exposure to the sun: full sun to partial shade

3. Lilies Candidum (Lillium hybrids)

Candidum lilies are truly heirloom plants, with thousands of years of cultivation behind them. These lilies are classified as Division 3 lilies in the categorization system. They're derived from Balkan and Middle Eastern lilies, some of which have grown widely naturalized in Europe. Madonna lily is a common name for a flower that represents purity in Christianity.

Candidum hybrids require a shady location, with an eastern exposure and morning sun being ideal. If necessary, amend the soil to adjust the pH to a neutral level, then plant the bulbs about 1 inch below the surface. They prefer a slightly dry environment and will succumb to grey mold if exposed to moisture. Summer brings trumpet-shaped white blossoms.

  • Native Area: Nursery hybrids; parent species are Balkan and Middle Eastern natives.
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6–9
  • 4–6 feet in height
  • Exposure to the sun: full sun to partial shade

4. American Hybrids (Lillium hybrids)

Crossing multiple native North American species resulted in a new class of hybrid lilies, Division 4 in the classification system. In gardens with humus-rich soil and good drainage, these hybrids, especially the Humboldt lily, establish huge colonies. Large floral candelabras with steeply recurving and downward-facing petals are best used in wildflower gardens and informal landscapes.

They're easy to naturalize because they're derived from native North American species. It's not always evident whether you're dealing with a native species or a naturalized hybrid when you encounter a "wild" lily. Similarly, some "wild" lilies are hybrids or non-native species. The common roadside tiger lily, Lilium lancifolium or Lilium tigrinum, is almost always an Asian species.

  • Native Area: Nursery hybrids with North American parent species.
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3–9
  • 5–7 feet in height
  • Exposure to the sun: full sun to partial shade

5. Hybrids of Longiflorum (Lilium hybrids)

Most gardeners are familiar with the longiflorum lily group, Division 5, as the seasonal Easter lily, which growers are forced to bloom in the spring. Longiflorum lilies produce white trumpet-shaped blooms in the garden in July or August. Unlike many seasonal gift plants, the Easter lily can be moved to a permanent location outside. Choose a sheltered location with the sun for the flowers but shade for the roots. Leave the foliage alone and moisten it regularly.

  • Native Range: Japan's southern islands, Taiwan
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4–8
  • 2–3 feet in height
  • Exposure to the sun: full sun

6. Aurelian Lilies, Trumpet Lilies (Lillium hybrids)

Many Asiatic lilies with tubular, trumpet-shaped flowers or hybrid crosses of such Asiatics are found in Division 6, which includes trumpet lilies, which are named for their bugle-shaped blossoms. The term "Aurelian hybrid" refers to a trumpet lily, with one of its parents being L. henryi, a Chinese species. Although not as cold-hardy as other lilies, trumpet lilies are simple to grow as long as they are staked to protect their massive blooms and given a layer of insulating mulch to help them survive the winter. Cultivars like 'Golden Sunburst' are drought tolerant and can reach heights of 8 feet if well cared for.

  • Native Area: Nursery Hybrids 
  •  USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5–8
  • Height: 3–6 feet, with an occasional 8-footer
  •  Exposure to the sun: full sun

7. Oriental Lilies (Lillium hybrids)

Oriental lilies, which make up Division 7, are similar to Asiatic lilies in terms of form and color selection, but the former's perfume is unrivaled, which helps gardeners forgive their fussiness. They prefer acidic soil, which can be achieved by incorporating organic materials such as compost and leaf mold.

When many other flowers are winding down for the season, expect to see the first blooms of 'Stargazer' and different cultivars in August. Oriental lilies are hybrids, with progenitors such as Ligustrum auratum, native to Japan, Ligustrum speciosum is native to Japan, southern China, and other countries.

  • Native Area: Nursery hybrids from eastern Asia; parent species are native to the region.
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4–9
  • 3–5 feet in height
  • Exposure to the sun: full sun to partial shade

8. Lilies with Interdivisions (Lillium hybrids)

Division 8 is a catch-all category for hybrid lilies resulting from crossbreeding between parents from different lily divisions. LA lilies, for example, are hybrids created by crossing L. longiflorum with Asiatic species, resulting in huge, flattish flowers with a faint fragrance. The Orienpet, a Division 8 variety, has the scent, height, and color of Oriental lilies but the tough growth habit of trumpet lilies.

  • Native area: Nursery hybrids 
  •  USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3–9
  •  3–6 feet in height (depends on variety)
  • Sun exposure ranges from partial to full.

9. Species Lilies (Lillium spp.)

Finally, Division 9 includes species lilies, which are unhybridized wild kinds. The well-known wild tiger lily, for example, belongs to this category. It is an extensively naturalized Asian species that has also been widely naturalized in North America. Because they come from swampy jungles, frigid mountains, and a variety of habitats in between, wild lily species are highly adaptable. The number of species of lilies available in the nursery trade fluctuates. 

Still, you can find flowers like Lilium aratum 'Gold Band' by looking for specialty nurseries or communicating with members of lily societies. Likely, there are still undiscovered lily species thriving in far-flung corners of the globe, ready to contribute their genetic material to the next great hybrid.

  • Native Area: This varies depending on the species.
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3–10 (varies by species)
  • Height varies depending on the species
  • Sun exposure ranges from full sun to complete shade (varies by species)
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Elissa Sanci
Elissa Sanci
Elissa Sanci, the owner of the website, and senior writer of New York Garden; graduated from Santa Barbara City College – a famous public school in California with many diverse training professions, and she majored in horticulture.