Humboldt’s lily is a magnificent lily that grows to a height of 2.5 meters. It is endemic to California, growing in oak canyons and under ponderosa pines (the Wikipedia entry also claims its range extends to Baja California, Mexico).
The purplish bulbs send up leaves in 2 to 8 whorls, with each whorl containing 3-16 weakly oblanceolate leaves. The inflorescence is a raceme (that is, the flowers are arranged around a central axis) that bears up to 40 large, pendent, leopard-printed flowers. The two subspecies of Lilium humboldtii can be distinguished by their range and flower colour: Subspecies humboltii is found in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and has orange sepals and petals with magenta spots. Subspecies ocellatum is found in southern California and possibly Baja California, and has yellow or light orange sepals and petals with red to magenta spots.
Lilium humboldtii was named after Alexander von Humboldt, a Prussian polymath who achieved great fame in the 19th century. Humboldt, who for a time served as a French diplomat, also wrote the five-volume Cosmos, a comprehensive work covering all of geography and the natural sciences. During his expedition to Latin America, he laid the foundations of physical geography with his concept of “isothermal lines”. Alexander von Humboldt continues to be celebrated today; the book Alexander von Humboldt: a metabiography, was published in 2008, and the blog Humboldtian Tales provides an entertaining glimpse into some of Humboldt’s many interests and accomplishments. Lilium humboldtii was named in commemoration of Alexander von Humboldt’s 100th birthday (see Gardener’s Chronicle, 728).