Turk’s Cap Lily

The month of July, in gardens and along roadsides, orange daylilies add vibrant color to the landscape. These daylilies are most obliging and do not need an attentive gardener to pamper them. These brilliant orange flowers of fields and gardens seem to thrive and multiply in spite of benign neglect. Orange daylilies are indeed lovely and ubiquitous, but for the Earth Lady, these common wildflowers wistfully bring to mind a July day many years ago when she encountered a large colony of rare Turk’s Cap Lilies blooming in Tishomingo County. In this secluded, sylvan setting far from the madding crowd, multiple, exotic, orange flowers hung pendulously from tall, regal stalks. The vision was one of breathtaking beauty, and one that shall never be forgotten.

The Turk’s Cap Lily, Lilium superbum, has orange flowers with maroon spots. The petals are reflexed or curve backward to form the distinguished, defining Turk’s cap of the old Ottoman Empire, hence the common name. Each flower has a greenish throat or star. (The Tiger Lily, a non-native, escaped species that is very similar to the Turk’s Cap Lily does not have the green star.) The long stamens with brown anthers gracefully dangle from the Turk’s cap. The leaves are lance-shaped and whorled. These lilies can grow from 3 to 7 feet tall, and while seldom sporting more than 25 flowers there can be as many as 40 blossoms per plant.

In the wild this lily can be found growing in filtered shade in damp meadows and moist woodlands. This native wildflower usually blooms in July and August, and the blooms can last for a month. The flowers bloom at just the right time and provide a source of nectar for hummingbirds as they begin to feed in earnest and prepare for fall migration. Butterflies and moths are also attracted to this lily.

The roots of this beautiful wildflower are supposedly edible and tasty, but there is no justification for eating the roots of this rare wildflower unless one is lost in the woods and starvation is imminent. This native, gorgeous lily is also quite striking in the garden, but it should never be collected from the wild, since few individuals can duplicate its natural habitat. There are specialty catalogs and resources where one can purchase bulbs. Just be sure to acquaint yourself with the botanical name, Lilium superbum. Many of the exotic lilies popular with gardeners are non-native and are imported.

Travel to faraway places broadens one’s horizons and is enlightening, but this summer travel is somewhat restricted and complicated. Thoreau once said, “Only that travel is good which reveals to me the value of home and enables me to enjoy it better.” And close to home, there are still natural wonders to behold. A host of Turk’s Cap Lilies blooming in the filtered light of a woodland setting is a cherished memory and an affirmation of nature’s mysterious affinity for unrivaled beauty.

THE EARTH LADY by Margaret Gratz appears once a month in the Daily Journal.

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