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Cedar Mill News
Volume 2, Issue 3


March 2004

Native Lilies in our woods

Kyle Spinks, biologist with Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District

The Pacific Northwest is home to numerous native wildflowers in the Lily family, and the West Hills of Portland bloom with these beauties from early spring through late summer. One of the earliest to bloom is the Western Trillium, also called the Giant Wake-robin because it appears when the robins return to start their families each Spring. This forest bloom is distinguished by a three-petaled flower, which turns pinkish over the summer, on a stalk above three large, oval leaves, all on an single stem up to a foot tall. A close relation, but rarer in this area, is the Sessile Trillium which also boasts three petals, but which are narrower and are not stalked above the three purplish-mottled leaves. The seeds of both of these lilies have small oil appendages that are tasty to ants. They carry the seeds back to their nests, dine on the appendages, then discard the seeds, thereby distributing them across the forest floor.

Around Easter the forest floor may burst with delicate white, six-petaled Oregon Fawn Lilies (also called Easter Lilies or Trout Lilies). The single flower nods on a 6-10-inch stem that rises from two purple-mottled leaves tight against the ground.

In Oak wetland forests it’s common to find Camas Lilies, the underground bulbs of which are famous as a food source for the local Native Americans. Rising about two feet tall, the flower stalk may have numerous lavender, six-petaled (technically, tepaled) flowers. The two common species are distinguished by how the tepals wither at the end of the blooming season: the withered tepals of the Great Camas (or Leichtlin’s Camas) twist together over the expanding fruit whereas the tepals of the Common Camas do not. The Native Americans knew to avoid the poisonous Death Camas, identified by its white tepals.

Two of our tallest lilies are the Indian Hellebore and the California False Hellebore. Found in forest wetlands, they grow up to 7 feet tall, have long spikes of dense, greenish-white flowers branching from a single stem, and have numerous large, oval leaves up to a foot long. The first has spikes which droop whereas the second has upright spikes. Indian Hellebore is one of the most violently poisonous plants in the area, a fact well-known by the local Native Americans.

One of our most spectacular lilies is the Tiger Lily (or Columbia Lily), so-named because of its bright orange petals dotted with purple toward the center. This spectacular lily is often seen with several nodding flowers on a single stem rising up to three feet tall in open forests. The Tiger Lily blooms starting in June and the seed pods expand and drop their seeds by late summer.

Other lilies you might see include Hooker’s Fairybells, Smith’s Fairybells, Queen’s Cup, False Lily-Of-The-Valley, False Solomon’s Seal, Starry Solomon’s Seal, Rosy Twisted-stalk, and Clasping Twisted-stalk. A great reference for Northwest flowers (and trees, shrubs, grasses, lichens, mosses, and ferns!) is Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, and Alaska, edited by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon.




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The Cedar Mill News
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Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
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