Our Stately Sierra Lilies

by Nancy Gilbert

Four native lily species grow in our Sierra Nevada foothills and high country; all are eye-popping gorgeous. Most lilies enjoy having their feet in the shade and their heads in the sun. Unfortunately, deer will frequently nip the upper leaves and seedpods of lilies; deer fencing, cages, deer repellants, or growing them among dense shrubbery or on steep banks can protect them.

tall single stalk with numerous large white lily flowers and bugs
Washington lily (Lilium washingtonianum) has a captivating scent when in bloom.

Washington lily (Lilium washingtonianum), with its stately white flowers, has a deliciously sweet fragrance, which can help lead you to it. This lily is usually found growing under trees or among shrubs at 3500 to 5500 ft elevation.It is a dryland lily, meaning it grows on well-drained sites with very little or no summer water. It resents our lower elevation heat and prefers some winter snow cover. Many can now be found blooming among greenleaf manzanitas at Omega Diggins Overlook off Hwy. 20. Follow the fragrance along the path!

Swallowtail butterfly on tall sturdy stalk with numerous huge lily blooms, orange with brown spots,
Humboldt’s tiger lily (Lilium humboldtii), like most native lilies, likes its roots in shade and flowers in sun. Favored by swallowtail butterflies

Humboldt’s tiger lily (Lilium humboldtii) is another striking dry-land lily that grows locally in our foothill regions. Older plants can have up to 30 flowers, and in the right conditions, live to be very old. It is more heat tolerant than Washington lily and appreciates some dappled shade.This tiger lily grabs our attention with its bright orange turk’s cap flowers speckled with purple. It is a magnet for swallowtail butterflies, native bees and hummingbirds.

Two splendid wetland lily species are found in our region as well. They grow on streambanks, near seeps, lakes, and in moist mountain meadows and fens. You can grow them locally in rain-type gardens or irrigated, large pots. Both species attract a wide array of pollinators and are beautiful additions to an irrigated garden.

Hummingbird sipping from one of many large orange lily blooms.
Leopard lily (Lilium pardalinum ssp. pardalinum) needs year-round moisture.

Leopard lily (Lilium pardalinum ssp. pardalinum) often forms colonies if it finds just the right moist habitat, as its bulbs form rhizomes. It is usually found from 2500 to 6500 ft elevation.It does adapt to gardens conditions if given year-around moisture. It does well in large pots if watered. It can be found blooming en masse now in the moist meadow along the Sierra Discovery Trail in Bear Valley. Take great care not to tread on them or other wetland plants in your enthusiasm!

Alpine lily (Lilium parvum) likes conditions above 4000 ft. Notice its blossoms face upwards, unlike other orange native lilies.

Alpine lily (Lilium parvum) differs from our other orange-colored lilies in that its blooms face upwards and outwards. The flowers are also smaller. This one is best appreciated in the wild, as it occurs from 4000 to 9000 ft elevations and resents lower elevation heat; it also prefers winter snow cover. It can be seen at Sagehen Creek and along the Mt. Judah Trail above Sugar Bowl.

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