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Lilium canadense

Lilium canadense var. flavum

Commonly known as the Canada lily, Meadow lily or Wild yellow lily, this species is probably the commonest and most widely distributed lily in N. America, ranging from Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, southward to West Virginia. It was the first American lily to become known in Europe, being introduced by the French about 1620 and named L. canadense by Linnaeus in 1753. It was being grown in English gardens in the middle of the 17th century in the yellow form shown here (L. canadense var. flavum), which seems to be the commonest in the wild, and it is this form that received an FCC in 1871. As the photograph below indicates, there are also forms with brick-red flowers (L. canadense var. rubrum).

Lilium canadense var. rubrum This is a very elegant plant, growing to 1.5 m. (4ft. 6in.) but altogether less robust in appearance than the Martagon lily, with thinner, but nonetheless quite tough stems which do not generally require staking. As the photographs show, the large nodding flowers, which are produced from June-August, are borne in a most attractive manner on curved, arching pedicels. They may number up to 20 on a stem, usually less than ten. It can be seen from the photograph of the red form that the tepals are chocolate-spotted within. The anthers are a beautiful shade of reddish-orange, but as the flowers hang down and the filaments are short they are not quite such a feature as those of the white Martagon lily.

The Canada lily, unlike many of its N. American kin, is easy to grow as long as it is borne in mind that is a plant of woodland edges as well as of humid prairies, and while it may be grown well in partial shade it degenerates rapidly in deep shade. The soil must be moist and contain a good deal of humus and it is a plant which flourishes among azaleas and other smallish rhododendrons and peat-loving shrubs. Unlike L. martagon var. album, which has ‘typical’ lily bulbs, L. canadense has small ovoid or flattened bulbs with short scales formed annually at the end of a stout, horizontally-creeping, finger-like stolon 5 cm. (2 in.) or so long. The bulbs should be planted at least 15 cm. (6in.) deep, preferably in the early autumn as soon as the stems have died down rather than in the spring. I find that this is a fairly short-lived lily in my garden, say two to three, perhaps four years, but as it sets seed abundantly if there is more than one clone in the vicinity this is not a problem – another reason for growing from seed in the first place. If the seed is sown immediately it will probably germinate the following spring, although no sign of growth will be seen above ground until a year later as the seed only produces a root in the first growing season. If the seedlings are grown on well they should flower in three or four years after sowing.

See the article about Lilies.

John Good