Lilium catesbaei

Walter 1788

Pine lily

Lilium catesbaei grown in Portland, Oregon (Hansen)


  • Section: Pseudolirium (North America)
  • Origin: Southeastern United States (Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, southern Virginia, southern Illinois)
  • Habitat: riparian, coastal scrub
  • Type: American wetland
  • Status: threatened


Description: Lilium catesbaei is a fire chaser. Fire is a essential element of its ecology. Fire removes competition, creates new habitat, and recycles the nutrients the lily needs to survive.

Lilium catesbaei has a small bulbs composed of firm multi-jointed scales with unusually long basal roots.

Lilium catesbaei. Note the small 1-inch (2.5cm) bulbs with jointed scales and unusually long and robust basal roots to anchor it in wetland environments that typically flood

The stem rises 1-3ft (30-50cm) with narrow lanceolate leaves at its base that turn upright against the stem towards the inflorescences. The raceme is often just 1-3 flowers arranged alternately. The flowers are large with claw-shaped red-orange petals, with unique unusually long petioles with long anthers and pistil. It is a very variable lily in its morphology. This may be a reflection of distinct genetic populations or environmental effects. Regardless, it can have petals that are large and claw-like, to almost what you might call fang like

There are several color variations as well. To date there is only one recognized type, Lilium catesbaei catesbaei. However, several color phenotypes do present themselves in populations grown from seed of otherwise typical plants.

The white phenotype (below left) is a rare phenotype that sometimes occurs in seedlings of otherwise typical plants. The yellow colored phenotype (below right) also occurs in seedlings of otherwise typical plants and seems to do so more often than the white phenotype. Though both variations are rare and should be cloned if they arise.

Habitat: The species is native to the south eastern United States in lowland riparian areas in acid soils (histosols) and wetlands with a high peat content that burn regularly with episodic fire.

Histosols are very acidic, nutrient poor soils. These habitats are commonly known as blackwater habitats because of the brown staining of the water from the tannins in the peat. The soils are high in fluvic and humic acid, as well as tannins released by peat moss. Tannins are a natural preservative and antioxidant, and as such have a antibacterial property. They help preserve the organic matter and prevent decay. This is the reason why these soils are very high in organic matter and thus are an important carbon sink. All these chemicals help to not only acidify the soil, but purify it as well.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive the water in these wetlands is very clean. The peat and sphagnum moss, and other wetland plants all act as filtration to trap suspended material where it can be oxidized and purified. Or in other cases fix pollutants like heavy metals and minerals in the soil and act as a sink. As a result these waters are very low in TDS (total dissolved solids). They may be acidic, but they are very, very, clean. These are not easy conditions to reproduce in the garden.

Climate: The climate of the Southeastern United States is dominated by the humid-subtropical climate. It is fairly uniform in temperature across most southern United States (Florida, Alabama, and Georgia). Temperatures are generally in the high 80F low 90F. Though they do get cooler in the mountains due to elevation. Due to the close proximity of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, it is usually very humid (90%+),and thunderstorms occur often in the Southeast region.

The Bermuda-high dominates the summer months and pumps hot, moist air from the tropical Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico west inland over the southern United States and produces a tropical climate for most of summer. Rainfall in summer is concentrated along the Gulf Coast and the South Atlantic coast, reaching a well-defined summer monsoon pattern. The climate is just the opposite of the Pacific Northwest with dry winters and wet summers. Unlike the American west coast which has a long wet season where rainfall is more less consistent during the wet months, rainfall in the Southern Unites States often comes in quick, with intense downpours. In this area, December, March, or April are typically the wettest months; August to October, the driest months.

Winters are colder in areas the further northwest you as you would suspect, with average highs in the 45 °F (7 °C) range in January. Farther south, winters become milder across interior eastern North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, with average January highs in the 53 °F (12 °C) range. As one nears the Gulf of Mexico, coastal plain, and coastal areas of Georgia and the Carolinas, winters become warm, with daytime highs near or over 60 °F (16 °C), until far enough south in central Florida where daytime highs are above 70 °F (21 °C). Winters tend to be very dry and sunny across Southeastern U.S., with a gradual increase in winter rainfall with increasing latitude, especially west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Cultivation: According to Mike Wang who grows Lilium catesbaei with great success, it is no more difficult than growing any Sarracenia species. See Mike Wang's article on cultivation of Lilium catesbaei. This makes perfect sense as it grows side-by-side with Sarracenia species in its native habitat. Its requirements are virtually the same: clean water with low TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) >80ppm is key. Like a lot of wetland plants, it is very intolerant of salts, especially phosphorous (fertilizer, especially phosphorous, is death to Sarracenia and Lilium catesbaei), and hot soils (soils heavy in nutrient load like fertilizer).

18751317649_50479f254a_z.jpg/Lilium catesbaei growing side-by-side with Sarracenia ssp. (By Mike Wang)

As with Sarracenia, the number one rule of Lilium catesbaei is,

If it dries it dies.

Rule number two is,

Anything that violates rule number one violates all other rules.

This doesn't mean it wants to be soaking wet. It wants to be moist; if its feet are in standing water it will rot. Plant in a mix of almost pure peat moss with a little sand and keep it wet, not waterlogged. To quote Mike Wang:

Watering is key to success: keep the soil as wet as possible, but NEVER waterlogged! ...The roots HATE having wet feet and will rot if you keep them wet for too long. As a reminder, water quality is also key, since these plants are relatively sensitive to salts...If you think about growing these like Carnivorous plants (which is the key to success), they're easier to grow than a Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula)! Perhaps others haven't had much luck with these plants because they were trying to grow them somewhat like other lilies, except slightly submerged in water. These plants HATE being submerged in any amount of water!

Like Lilium candidium the bulbs should be level with the surface of the soil at its deepest and no deeper. Preferable perched above the soil to maximize FAE (Fresh Air Exchange).

22728244319_cc2043bf6a_h.jpgLilium catesbaei grown from seed by Mike Wang. Notice the bulbs perched above the soil. (Picture by Mike Wang)

It scales very readily and and can be quickly propagated using this method. Seed is also a quick way to increase populations. Plants grown from seed flower in about two years. It is very tolerant of cold and has been grown successfully as far north as Minnesota and Portland, Oregon. It requires a cold dormancy period (Yes it gets cold in the American south. Even northern Florida gets snow from time to time).

29548390405_b243f22128_c.jpg/A tray of Lilium catesbaei grown by Mike Wang (picture by Mike Wang) though there\'s no record of Lilium catesbaei being used in hybrids on the market today, Samuel Emsweller of the USDA obtained seed from crosses with Lilium catesbaei x Lilium grayi; Lilium catesbaei x Lilium philadelphicum, Lilium catesbaei x Lilium superbum. Barry Francis successfully produced flowering plants from crosses between Lilium catesbaei
and Lilium philadelphicum.

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