Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: lily from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Any of a group of plants belonging to the lily family, of which there are about 80 species, most with showy, trumpet-shaped flowers growing from bulbs. The lily family includes hyacinths, tulips, asparagus, and plants of the onion genus. The name ‘lily’ is also applied to many lilylike plants of related genera and families. (Genus Lilium, family Liliaceae.)

images

lily


Summary Article: lily from The Columbia Encyclopedia

common name for the Liliaceae, a plant family numbering several thousand species of as many as 300 genera, widely distributed over the earth and particularly abundant in warm temperate and tropical regions. Most species are perennial herbs characterized by bulbs (or other forms of enlarged underground stem) from which grow erect clusters of narrow, grasslike leaves or leafy stems. A few are woody and some are small trees.

Common Species

The name lily is used chiefly for plants of the genus Lilium and related species but is applied also to plants of other families, e.g., the water lily, the calla lily, and especially the numerous species of the amaryllis family (often included in the Liliaceae) whose blossoms closely resemble the true lilies in appearance. Familiar among North American species of Lilium are the wood lily (L. philadelphicum), Turk's-cap lily (L. superbum), and Canada, or wild yellow, lily (L. canadense) of the East and the leopard lily (L. pardalinum), Washington lily (L. washingtonianum), lemon lily (L. parryi), and Humboldt's lily (L. humboldtii) of the West. Widely cultivated and often naturalized Old World species are the Madonna lily (L. candidum) and the martagon lily (L. martagon), also called Turk's cap lily. The white trumpet lily (L. longiflorum) of Japan includes the Easter, or Bermuda, lily (var. eximium), which is the most popular greenhouse lily. The garden tiger lily is the Oriental species L. tigrinum, but many other lilies with spotted blossoms also bear the name.

Calochortus, mariposa or mariposa lily, is a genus of the lily family found in W North America. The white-blossomed sego lily (C. nuttallii) is the state flower of Utah. The day lilies, genus Hemerocallis [Gr.,=beautiful for a day], native to Central Europe and Asia, are much cultivated and often found naturalized along roadsides. The name day lily is occasionally used for the Oriental plantain lily genus (Hosta) because it too has short-lived flowers. The glory, or climbing, lilies (Gloriosa superba) are plants of tropical Asia and Africa that climb by means of tendrillike leaf tips.

Many common wildflowers also belong to the lily family, e.g., the asphodel, brodiea, camass, Canada mayflower (see mayflower), dogtooth violet, greenbrier (see smilax), lily of the valley, Solomon's-seal, star-of-Bethlehem, and trillium.

Economic Importance

Because of the showy blossoms characteristic of the family, many species are cultivated as ornamentals. This is the chief economic value of the Liliaceae; over 160 genera are represented in American trade. Types of hyacinth, lily, meadow saffron, squill, and tulip constitute the bulk of the "Dutch bulb" trade. Yucca and aloe species are popular succulents; the latter is also a drug source. Asparagus and plants of the onion genus are the only liliaceous food plants of commercial importance. A small tropical tree was the original source of dragon's blood.

Symbolism

In religion and art the lily symbolizes purity, and as the flower of the Resurrection and of the Virgin it is widely used at Easter. The lily of the Bible (Cant. 2.1) has been variously identified with the scarlet anemone, Madonna lily, and other plants; the "lilies of the field" (Mat. 6.28) probably means any wildflowers, perhaps the iris.

Classification

Lilies are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Liliales, family Liliaceae.

Bibliography
  • See Rockwell, F. F. et al., The Complete Book of Lilies (1961).
  • Feldmaier, C., Lilies (1970).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article lily
The Bloomsbury Guide to Art

A Christian symbol of purity, associated particularly with the Virgin Mary . It features in representations of the Annunciation where it is...

Full text Article lily
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A perennial herbaceous plant of the genus Lilium (80-100 species), native to N temperate regions and widely grown for ornament. Lilies grow...

Full text Article lily
Word Origins

[OE] (Old English) Lily probably originated in a pre-Indo- European language of the Mediterranean seaboard. Latin acquired it (either...

See more from Credo