Spring is now arriving throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere. For those of us in this part of the world, it’s nice to know that we can begin to enjoy blooming flowers not only on our computer screens, but also in person. For me, it is also satisfying to put a name to a plant I’ve encountered in the past. Lilium canadense used to catch my eye each summer along a riverside trail I would frequent in southeastern Ontario, but I didn’t know its identity until tackling this entry.
Bearing flowers ranging in colour from yellow to orange to red, Lilium canadense grows over much of eastern Canada and the USA, from Ontario to the Maritimes in the north and south to Georgia. The widespread colour variation in Lilium canadense across its distribution has prompted extensive research to identify and classify intraspecific variation. Although there are four recognized varieties and one subspecies, field observations over the last 60 years have found a wide overlap in the distributions of these varieties along with little morphological evidence to indisputably support this taxonomic variation (Flora of North America: Lilium canadense).
Plants typically grow from sea-level to 1000m (3281 ft.) in habitats ranging from woods to meadows, particularly where the habitat has a moist microclimate. Individual plants can reach 0.5 to 1.5 m (~2 to 5 ft.) in height. They often require substantial levels of light to grow, in contrast to the shaded scene depicted today. The number of flowers on each plant varies, with 20 flowers being reported as the maximum. The narrowly-elliptic leaves are arranged in whorls and can be imagined to resemble the lily’s flowers. These pendant, non-fragrant flowers generally hang downward with barely exserted stamens. Drinking nectar from these downward-facing flowers is a favoured activity of ruby-throated hummingbirds, who are the primary pollinators of the Canada lily.
Over the past decade, concerns (PDF) have been raised about the invasion of non-native beetles, such as the lily leaf beetle (Lilioceris lilii), into populations of Canada lilies. I’ve not been able to track down any recent reports concerning the lily leaf beetle’s effect on Lilium canadense, but these invasive beetles do seem to thrive wherever they manage to disperse. Another common damaging agent to Canada lilies and native understory species all across Canada and the uSA, is over-browsing by deer. Especially in the case of white-tailed deer, their range expansion across North America comes at a cost to many species that are now losing their functional roles in ecosystems from deer over-browsing–with far-reaching consequences. For more information, I’d recommend the article A Plague of Deer or a report by the USDA on White-tailed Deer in Northeastern Forests.
Also worth noting are some traditional indigenous uses of the Canada lily, including treatment of stomach disorders, rheumatism, irregular menstruation, and snake bites! Also cited by Flora of North America is the use by Cherokee peoples in “[preparing] a decoction of boiled rhizomes to fatten children” (via Daniel Moerman and the Native American Ethnobotany Database).