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Turk's Cap Lily, Turban Lily, Lily Royal, Swamp Lily, American Tiger Lily - Lilium superbum


Family: Liliaceae - Lily family Genus Common Name: Lily Native Status: NativeMonocot Perennial Herb
Lilium superbum - Turk's Cap Lily, Turban Lily, Lily Royal, Swamp Lily, American Tiger Lily. Of the 100 or so species of Lilium worldwide, about 22 are found in North America. Of those 22, over half have pendent flowers - their pedicels curve around downward, and the flower hang toward the ground like pendants. Turk's Cap Lily - Lilium superbum - is one of those pendent lilies. The common name Turks Cap comes from the shape of the perianth, with tepals (or petals and sepals) strongly reflexed, giving it somewhat the shape of the bulbous turbans worn by some Turks in ages past - Nasreddin (17th-century miniature).

Lilium superbum is Fairly widely distributed, being found in most states east of the Mississippi River, as well as in Arkansas and Missouri. Within its range, there are several similar pendent Lilium species, including L. michauxii (Carolina Lily) and L. michiganense (Michigan Lily.) L. superbum is the largest of the native pendent lilies; other differentiating diagnostics are noted along with the photos below.

Found in:
AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, MN, MS, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, TN, VA, WV

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Lilium superbum

Distribution of Lilium superbum in the United States and Canada:
USDA Plants Distribution Map temporarily unavailable.
Blue=Native; Grey=Introduced

Map from USDA Plants Database:
USDA, NRCS. 2017. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 16 Dec 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

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Site: Blue Ridge Parkway, Haywood County, NC Date: 2010-July-12Photographer: Gerald C. Williamson
Nikon D60
Tamron SP 90MM f/2.8 AF Macro
L. superbum (shown here), L. michauxii, and L. michganense all have strongly reflexed tepals (although usually more reflexed than in this photo; the flower must be early in its life-cycle.) They bend back above the perianth in L. superbum and L. michauxii, whereas in L. michaganense they reflex back to the base of the perianth. The style of L. superbum and L. michauxii is pale, and sometimes spotted purple, as in this photo. That style of L. michiganense is reddish or the color of the tepals, either in the entire length or at least in a significant portion of the tip (distal end.) Unlike the other two, L. michauxii is sweetly fragrant - it is the only fragrant native Lilium east of the Rockies.
Lilium superbum

Site: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Clingman's Dome Road, Swain County, NC Date: 2015-July-16Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
One key diagnostic for L. superbum is the green star formed by the bases of the tepals; this is not present in any other pendent Lily. However, I have read some descriptions indicating that the green star may occasionally be absent in L. superbum. The stamens and style are exserted well beyond the recurved tepals, as is also the case with L. michauxii and L. michiganense. The filaments of each are parallel at first, and then spread widely, but those of L. michiganense may spread earlier than those of the other two species. The style is pale green in L. superbum, reddish or the color of the tepals in L. michiganense.
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Lilium superbum

Site: Blue Ridge Parkway, Haywood County, NC Date: 2011-August-01Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 90MM f/2.8 AF Macro
Turk's Cap Lily's tepals are usually yellow-orange at the base (above the green marking), and transition to red-orange toward the tip. Like L. michauxii and L. michiganense they have purple or burgundy spots. L. michiganense is different from the other two in that it is missing the parallel ridges on the back of the sepals that can be seen in this photo (if you look closely!)
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Lilium superbum

Site: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Clingman's Dome Road, Swain County, NC Date: 2015-July-16Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
The Turk's Cap Lily inflorescence is a raceme of usually 3 to 25 flowers. That of L. michiganense is also a raceme - the pedicels are attached to the central stem at indeterminate points - but with fewer flowers, rarely more than 11. The inflorescence of L. michauxii is an umbel - all pedicels are attached at a central point - and usually will have no more than 4 flowers.
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Lilium superbum

Site: Blue Ridge Parkway, Haywood County, NC Date: 2011-August-01Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 90MM f/2.8 AF Macro
The leaves of all three Lilium species being discussed here are in whorls, but L. superbum, shown here, is a taller plant (up to 8 feet tall), and will have from 6 to 24 whorls of 3 to 20 leaves - a much leafier plant than the other two. L. michiganense is also a tall plant, growing to 7 feet, while L. michauxii (Carolina Lily) usually does not exceed 4 feet in height. The 4 to 12 leaf whorls of Michigan Lily have 5 to 20 leaves, while the shorter leaves of Carolina Lily usually are in 2 to 4 whorls of 3 to 7 leaves. In all cases the upper leaves may be alternate rather than whorled. While it's not unusual for Carolina Lily to have a single flower, that can occasionally also be the case for both Michigan Lily and, as shown here, for Turk's Cap Lily as well. While rarely having more than 25 flowers, there are reports of as many as 40 flowers on a Turk's Cap Lily plant.
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Lilium superbum

Site: Blue Ridge Parkway, Haywood County, NC Date: 2010-July-12Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D60
The usually dull purple anthers of Turk's Cap Lily have rust-colored pollen. They are more than .5-inch and up to over 1 inch long, similar to those of Carolina Lily (although these are usually smaller.) The anthers of Michigan Lily are rarely more than .5 inch long.
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Lilium superbum

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All content except USDA Plants Database map Copyright Gerald C. Williamson 2017
Photographs Copyright owned by the named photographer