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How to Tell the Difference Between Lilies and Daylilies

Daylily versus Lily -

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Lily and Daylily Foliage.

The Lily (Lilium), leaves on the left, whirl around the entire stalk. The daylily (Hemerocallis), leaves to the right, grow straight from the ground and the thin flower stalk is leafless.

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

The common names of flowers can be one of the more appealing and colorful aspects of gardening, but they can also cause confusion. One man’s trout lily is another's dog's-tooth-violet". The are hundreds of 'Bellflowers' and almost 1,000 types of sage, many of which are not edible. The red geraniums we love in pots aren’t really geraniums at all.

We would all hate to lose the sentimental charm of common names, but there are times when it helps to know the Latin name as well. One of those times is when trying to tell the difference between true lilies (Lillium) and Daylilies (Hemerocallis).

While Lilium are pretty much always called lilies, many of us casually refer to daylilies as simply lilies, too. For the most part, who cares? However if you’re looking for a particular plant, if you’re researching how to grow the plant you have and if you’re wondering why your lilies die when you cut them to bring inside, it will be a great help to know the difference between lilies and daylilies. Fortunately, it’s easy to tell the two plants apart by looking at the leaves, flower stems and how they grow.


Daylily (Hemerocallis)

Daylilies grow from thick, tuberous roots that are easily divided. Daylilies are popular with hybridizers and there are over 30,000 named varieties. They all have the following characteristics in common.

Foliage: The leaves are a dead giveaway as to which plant you have. Daylilies have long, flat strap-shaped blades that grow in clumps from the crown of the plant, at the soil line. Daylilies grow from about 1' high up to 4'.

Flowers: Each flower is in bloom for only 1 day. The name Hemmerocallis comes from the Greek words "hemera", which means day and "kallos", which means beauty. Most plants have multiple buds that will bloom over a period of time.

The flowers are borne on thin stalks, or scapes, that grow from the base of the plant. The scapes may be multi-branched.

If you look closely at the flower, you’ll see that 6 petals are in two layers of 3. The top three are the actual petals. The bottom three are sepals. The center of the flower, the throat, is often a contrasting color.

Each flower has either 6 or 7 stamens and an additional 2-lobed anther. Daylily flowers come in a variety of forms, including: circular, triangular, double, ruffled, star-shaped and spider-shaped.


Lily (Lillium)

All true lilies are grown from a bulb of overlapping scales. There are about 100 species of lilies, but lilies are generally defined by their classification, such as Asiatic, Oriental and Martagon (Turk’s cap).

Foliage: There is one central, unbranched stem from a lily bulb, with the flower buds forming at the top of the stem. The leaves grow around the entire length of the stem, in whorls or spirals. Lilies can grow from about 1 ½' tall to a towering 10'.

Flowers: Lilies always have 6 petals and 6 anthers. Each bloom lasts a week or more. The lowest buds on the stem will open first and the remaining buds will open sequentially through to the top most buds.

Lilies flowers also come in a variety of forms, including: trumpet-shaped, bowl-shaped, funnel-shaped and recurved.

Even More Confusing, What’s a Tiger Lily?

Tiger lily is a common name given to orange lilies that have naturalized along the side of the road. The name was originally given to a true lily (Lillium) that has bright orange blossoms speckled with dark-brown spots. Blooms are orange or reddish orange and have dark-brown speckles covering the petals. The petals of the tiger lily curve backwards and the whole blossom droops downward.

There is an orange daylily that has also naturalized along roadways. Many people refer to these daylilies as tiger lilies, but the weren’t the plant originally designated as the tiger lily. These orange roadsides lilies have their own, less flattering common name - ditch lilies.

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