Lovely lily or a lousy liability?

We all like plants that are easy to grow and one of the first lilies I ever planted was Lilium lancifolium, the tiger lily. The others were ‘Enchantment’, L. regale and ‘Pink Perfection’ so you can tell how long ago this was; ‘Enchantment’ has long been confined to the pages of plant relics! A lot has happened in the past 40 years but the tiger lily is still going strong. The better known name, which is sometimes used is L. tigrinum, but since it was first named L. lancifolium that is the name that should be used. Like a lot of ‘tiger’ plants, this is spotted – obviously early botanists got their leopards and tigers mixed up!

This lily has a wide natural distribution, throughout China and to the east and west, and is a strong-growing plant. It is thought that the plant we grow is a triploid plant that was cultivated for its edible bulbs and it rarely sets seeds. But it does produce black bulbils on the stems which can be easily used to propagate it. One of the later lilies to bloom it is usually at its best in August and with dozens of decent sized flowers on stems up to 2m high it is an imposing plant. The stems are black and covered in a light coat of white hairs. Plant the bulbs about 15cm deep and 20-30cm apart in part shade or full sun. This lily is not fussy about soil pH and will grow in most soils as long as they are not waterlogged. A moist, free-draining soil, rich in organic matter will suit it best but this is one of the most tolerant of lilies.

tiger lilies

But – there has to be a but – L. lancifolium is very resistant to virus diseases so most people who collect lilies avoid this as though it was Typhoid Mary. You might think that being resistant to virus is a good thing but it is actually bad because it is a host for viruses without showing symptoms which means aphids can spread the diseases to lilies of a lesser constitution. I am not sure how I feel about this because I have often bought lilies already infected with viruses and tulips can carry the virus too. If you are starting a collection of expensive lilies then it is probably best not to plant this but if you just want a hardy, tough, easy splash of colour then this is an ideal plant.

tiger lilies 2

As if the normal form were not controversial enough there is a double form (‘Flore Pleno’ ) that is worth considering. Because the flowers are packed with petals the flowers last much longer than the single form. I find the flower curiously attractive and remind me of something crustacean, like something pulling itself out of the sea in a John Wyndham novel. It is just as easy to grow as the normal type.

As well as a good cut flower, this is a useful garden plant that could be planted in front of a shrub with golden foliage such as Choisya ‘Sundance’ or through yellow roses.

Geoff’s rating

8/10 – low because of the virus problem

Garden rating


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One Comment on “Lovely lily or a lousy liability?”

  1. derrickjknight
    September 26, 2015 at 10:39 am #

    Probably both. I like it

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