Plants can be absolutely amazing. Some are beautiful to behold, like flowers with explosions of color dancing in the breeze. Others are delightful to snack on, with flavors that mystify the tongue. Many will grow like mad without much effort to cultivate them at all. Then, there are those plants that do all three of these things, and that’s when we just need to take advantage.
The tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium) is one of those plants. Originally from Japan and eastern Asia, the tiger lily has naturalized in North America, particularly in the northeast, and it grows weed-like when it gets a foothold somewhere. Tiger lilies produce stunning orange flowers with dark spots, and much of the plant is edible. Plus, when left to grow wild, like many bulb flowers, they will multiply themselves into abundance.
Whether it’s for foraging or cultivation, tiger lilies deserve a place amongst the plants to know and love.
Tiger Lily Specs
Tiger lilies are herbaceous plants with long (up to four inches), broad (nearly an inch wide) leaves. The flowers, again orange with dark spots, are born on long, slender stems that are known to grow upwards of six feet. The flowers consist of six petals that are curved back towards the plant, and they aren’t especially fragrant. The plant produces unique aerial bulbils along the stem near the leaves. These are dark purple and can be planted to create clones of the plant.
Tiger Lily Habitat
Tiger lilies started as ornamental plants in the US, so they are often found in somewhat developed places. They seem to thrive along roadsides and railroad tracks, and they like to find moist spots with good drainage, such as ditches and stream banks. They can potentially grow throughout most of the United States, from Zone 4 to Zone 9, but they have really established themselves in the northeastern region, namely New England.
Tiger Lily Edibility
Tiger lilies are edible. They are prized and cultivated for their bulbs in East Asia. The bulbs have a flavor and texture reminiscent of turnips, and they are often roasted like potatoes. In addition to the bulbs, the flowers are edible. The petals can be tossed into salads for a slightly sweet taste and a flash of color. The flower buds and plant shoots are commonly used in stir-fries. In other words, lots of this plant is available for consumption.
As a side note, tiger lilies—somewhat ironically, given the name—are not edible for cats. They’ll induce vomiting. Luckily, cats aren’t generally recognized as vegetable lovers.
Source: Jimmy Smith/Flickr
Tiger Lily Foraging
The best time to look for tiger lilies is in the late summer. When foraging for tiger lilies, it’s very important not to confuse them with any old lily, specifically the toxic Asiatic lilies. The flowers of the Asiatic lily look similar in shape to tiger lilies; however, the leaf-stem structure is entirely different. When foraging anything, it is vitally important to do due diligence with identification. While harvesting tiger lilies is nothing to fear and relatively simple, mistakes with wild plants can be very costly.
Tiger Lily Cultivation
Tiger lilies do not produce seeds. They can be propagated either by division or by planting the bulbils that grow along the stem. Propagating by division (underground bulbs) is much quicker to produce mature plants. In early autumn, after the foliage dies, cut back the plant to a short stem and dig it up, going about eight inches deep to avoid damaging the bulbs. Divide the bulbs and plant them around five inches deep. To do it with bulbils, collect them in early autumn and plant them about five inches deep. They can take up to three years to produce a mature plant.
Tiger Lily Triumph!
For those looking to cultivate an edible lawn and garden without upsetting neighborhood codes, these are an ideal plant. And, there are other day lilies to research for this as well. They are typically regarded as an ornamental, so that appeases those with beauty in mind. But, they are also sneakily good to eat, which provides the functionality edible landscapers are after. And, for gardeners, they don’t’ require a lot of care but provide good results. See there, flowers can make for a peaceful (and palatable) planet!
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