Lilies are almost a synonym for the beauty of garden flowers. Tall, big-bloomed, fragrant and amazingly colorful, a lily is an endless source of wonder an inspiration for gardeners, artists and lovers alike. No wonder this group of plants is - and always will be - one of the gardening and floristry classics and all-time favorites.
However, “classic” certainly doesn’t mean “boring.” Lilies are vividly colored, exotic, elegant, and sassy. Also, they are very diverse.
Basic Facts About Lilies
Lilies represent a very diverse group of plants in the genus Lilium (“True lilies”), counting about 90 recognized species. On top of that, there are even more hybrid varieties, making the diversity of garden lilies seem endless.
As for the general description, lilies are upright and relatively tall plants. The shape of flowers can be trumpet, bell, or bowl-like, and in some cases almost flat. The number of blooms on the stem differs from species to species, and cultivar to cultivar - they can be singular or grouped, with some lilies having as much as 50 flowers on a single stem. The flower’s size also varies from hybrid to hybrid.
When it comes to lily fragrance, there is a strict division - while some varieties are very fragrant, other popular types produce no smells.
The highest points are the colors and patterns of lilies. They come in almost all colors, except for true blue. Many varieties are variegated and have spots, freckles or dark patches, which makes lily colors and patterns even more diverse and captivating.
Because of this vast array - both natural and hybridized - it made sense to classify lilies into several botanical divisions.
Get ready for one colorful journey, because in this article I will introduce you to the main nine horticultural divisions of lilies and lily hybrids.
Let’s discover all the fantastic types of lilies together!
Division 1 - Asiatic Type hybrids
Asiatic lilies the most popular lily hybrids in the world - they are easy to grow, multiply rapidly, and have the biggest color range of all lilies. Also, all are cold-hardy varieties and rewarding early bloomers, starting in early summer and continuing to produce flowers into July.
The stems are strong and straight, which means there is rarely a need to stake them when the blooms open. The stems’ average length is 3 to 4 feet, with 3 to 6 flowers per stem.
Blossoms can be up-facing, out-facing, or pendant, and smaller than most other popular lily hybrids, reaching 4-5 inches. As for their color range, it features all warm colors - red, yellow, orange, pink and creamy white, but also some more unusual combinations such as the fascinating pink-black ‘Purple eye’. All of them make attractive and long-lasting cut flowers.
What’s interesting about Asiatic lilies is that their flowers are unscented, which is great if you are over-sensitive to strong flower smells - you can keep the cut flowers in a vase in the middle of your kitchen table without getting irritated.
Be aware that Asiatics are a favorite snack of deers and rabbits, so watch out if you plant them in the garden that gets visited by wildlife!
If you are actually aiming to attract wildlife - specifically hummingbirds - try these cultivars: ‘Red Velvet,’ ‘Karen North,’ and ‘White Lace.’
Other popular cultivars include ‘Impala’; ‘Sancerre,’ ‘Tango Passions,’ ‘Sunray,’ ‘Montreaux,’ ‘Dreamland.’
Division 2 - Martagon Hybrids
Wild Martagons are native to Eurasia. The division includes the Martagon lily - L. Martagon, and its hybrids, as well as some Asian species - L. hansonii, L. medeoloides, and L. tsingtauense.
Martagons are early bloomers with unique flowers. They feature tall stems with numerous small, down-facing, dainty flowers of a particular shape - the so-called “Turk’s cap.” Flowers can also be particularly numerous (up to 50 per stem) and strikingly colored. Although many varieties feature pastel colors ranging from white to pink to yellow and light orange, the deep red varieties are a Martagon trademark, as well as their spots and freckles.
Martagons do poorly in hot and humid climates, and they prefer to have some shade. That makes them ideal candidates for woodland gardens in temperate climates, where they will surely bring a refreshing colorful dash to a forest-like setting.
They can be tricky to start and establish, but once they take root, they will make a long-lasting addition to your garden. Make sure not to disturb your Martagons once they are planted and mulch them if you expect a hot summer.
Division 3 - Candidum Hybrids
Candidum hybrids also stem from Europe and include species such as the namesake - L. Candidum, L. chalcedonicum, L. monadelphum. However, although they share the same origins, the group excludes Martagon hybrids, which are classified in a separate division as we’ve just learned.
The most famous example of the group, the Madonna lily (L. candidum) has legendary fragrant white flowers with a yellow base. Madonna lily can have up to 20 blossoms per stem, adding to the plant’s monumentality. They are in bloom from late spring to early summer.
Although L. candidum and its hybrids are not very commercially popular, the division is far from insignificant. The first mention of any lily in history, 4000 years ago, concerns a pure white L. candidum. Archeological objects and treasures depicting the same flower have been found in ancient cities of Greece, Crete, and Mesopotamia.
Notable hybrids: ‘June Fragrance’ - a cross between L. candidum salonikae and L. monadelphum - is a novel member of Candidum division, and it turned out to be a good base for creating more new hybrids.
Division 4 - American hybrids
The American group includes the hybrids of wild lilies of North America - the well-known species such as Tiger Lily (L. columbianum), Panther Lily (L. pardalinum), Canada Lily (L. canadense) and Turk’s Cap Lily (L. superbum). They are not a commercially successful division - which doesn’t mean they are not captivating.
In warmer climates, they are late spring-bloomers, while in colder climates you can expect to see the first flowers by the end of June to early July. You should plant the bulbs at about 5 inches in the cool, light soil, in a partially shaded spot such as the edge of a woodland.
Notable cultivars. The ‘Bellingham’ hybrid is the most well-known Division 4 cultivar, created by the D. Griffiths in 1933. The original Bellingham is a hybrid of L. humboldtii, L. pardalinum and L. parryi. The color ranges from yellow to bright orange-red, often featuring rusty spots. They are highly praised in the market.
Division 5 - Longiflorum Hybrids or Easter Lilies
Division 5 features hybrids that are commonly known as Easter Lilies. All are hybrids derived from L. longiflorum and L. formosanum, native to Japan and Taiwan.
They owe their common name to their blooming time and very elegant pure white trumpets which are in tune with the named holiday’s monumentality. Hence, they are commonly used for Easter decorations.
Unfortunately, although they are easy to start from seed, they are not particularly hardy in an average garden setting. This is the reason that Easter lilies in North America are typically grown in containers.
Notable hybrids: L. “Ace”‘, L. “Nellie White,” and L. “White America.”
Trumpet and Aurelian Hybrids – Horticultural Division 6
Trumpet lilies are popular cut flowers - because of their lush, 6-10 inches long trumpet-shaped flowers, and a strong, sweet fragrance. The flowers are not only big and fragrant, but they are numerous as well - there can be 12-15 blooms on a tall stalk. A presence of secondary and tertiary buds promises a long flowering season.
Aurelian hybrids are clustered into the same division as trumpets because they are actually Trumpet hybrids, created by crossing Trumpets with Henry’s Lily (L. Henryi). As a recurved lily, “Henry” gives Aurelians the flaring petals and stary looks.
The division 6 lilies are late bloomers (July to August). Trumpets and Aurelians love the sun, and they prefer full sun exposure. They are not cold hardy, so if you live in a cooler climate, it is better to grow them in containers. Their really tall stalks (4-6 feet!) will need support because they can become easy victims of sudden summer storms. Otherwise, they are easy to grow, even easy to start from seeds - which is great if you would like to try and make your own hybrids.
Some popular cultivars include L. African Queen, L. ‘Black Magic’, L. ‘Black Dragon,’ L. Golden Splendor, L. ‘Royal Gold,’ L. ‘Pink Perfection.’
Division 7 - Oriental Hybrids
Oriental hybrids are the second most important lily group in the flower market (after Asiatics). They were created by crossing interspecific hybrids and species lilies such as L. auratum and L. japonicum and L. rubellum.
Orientals are known for large (6 to 8 inches), robust, upright-facing flowers with recurved petals. The flowers' basic color can be pink, white, purple or red. Flowers are very fragrant as well, which all makes them a florist's favourite. The vividly pink cultivar L. 'Star Gazer' is one of the most popular cut flowers of all times.
Orientals bloom from July to August, and are in bloom for 2-3 weeks. If you have alkaline soil, know that orientals will not tolerate it well - in that case, it is better to grow them in containers.
Notable hybrids: L. ‘Star Gazer,’ L. 'Emily,' L. 'Little Girl,' L. ‘Casa Blanca,’ L. ‘Mona Lisa.’
Division 8 - Interdivisional Hybrids
Unlike the classic hybrids, interdivisional hybrids are a product of scientific advancements and new horticultural technologies that allow hybridization of unrelated lilies that could not be hybridized traditionally. That enabled the creation of interspecific hybrids - crosses between entirely different species.
Creating new and unexpected looks is the primary motivation to experiment with these “impossible” hybrids, but also it is the possibility of creating hardier and disease-resistant cultivars.
The two most distinct interdivisional lily hybrid groups are the LA hybrids (Longiflorum-Asiatic) and OT or Orienpet hybrids (Oriental-Trumpet).
With their showy, intense colors, LA hybrids are a quite lively-looking group derived from a genetic combination of versatile Asiatic lilies and large-flowered Longiflorum. LA hybrids took in the best of two worlds - the wide color range of Asiatics, and the elegant look, big blooms and long blooming time of Easter lilies. Also, you should know that, like Asiatic lilies, they lack fragrance.
You can expect the LA hybrid plants to grow up to four feet tall.
OT (Orienpet) hybrids
The OT hybrids, also known as Orienpet lilies, are a cross of Oriental lilies and Trumpet/Aurelian lilies. They are a highly attractive summer variety, with flowers that have a shallow trumpet shape with a broad full bloom, and reach 6 to 10 inches. Unlike the LA hybrids, the flowers of OT hybrids very fragrant. They are also hardier than both of their parent divisions. The mix of these good traits makes Orienpets trendy cut flowers - especially the cultivars such as ‘Leslie Woodriff,’ and ‘Scheherazade.’
There are even more interdivisional crosses available on the lily market, for example, Trumpet-Longiflorum, Oriental-Asiatic, and Trumpet/Aurelian-Asiatic. Even better - with bioscience-backed horticulture, there are many more to come in the future.
Division 9 - Species and Wild Lilies
The last division of lilies consists of wild lily species, native to Asia (mostly Japan, China, India, and Burma), Europe and North America. These wild lily species are the ancestors of all the fabulous hybrids that decorate our garden spaces. Although they are not as attractive as their hybrid offspring, their natural, delicate beauty is charming in its own way.
Because of the diversity of this division, there can be no general recommendations on growing wild lilies - it all depends on a particular species. While some are easy to grow, others are very sensitive in their non-native environments and present a real challenge to establish in a garden.
I hope that you have enjoyed this colorful overview of the main lily divisions and that you are now more aware of how incredibly diverse lilies are. The number of shapes, sizes, colors, and fragrances of lily flowers is truly dazzling - and ever increasing. We should consider ourselves lucky for that!
What’s your favorite lily division? If you would have to choose only one lily hybrid to grow, which one would you pick? What cultivar is the easiest, and what is the most challenging one to grow in your area? Please share your experience in the comments!