Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Turk's-cap Lily

There is a magnificent plant blooming in the Blue Ridge mountains of eastern Tennessee.

Its name is so wonderfully evocative of its luxurious and exotic appearance: the Turk's Cap lily.

This native lily is a rarity in my state, occurring in only a handful of counties in the east Tennessee highlands.

However, its nationwide range includes most of the eastern states, from New Hampshire to  Florida to Arkansas.

Turk's Cap lilies prefer moist, wooded uplands and meadows, and can also be found growing on the balds of the Appalachian mountains.

It ranges in height from 4 to an astounding 11 feet tall, with the latter specimens being especially impressive.

In fact, the Turk is the tallest native lily species in our country.

The straight, sturdy stem has a branching growth habit, with several whorls of 5-20 leaves at regular intervals.

Whatever height it grows to, it is sure to turn heads when it blooms!

The bright orange to red nodding blooms measure about 3 inches across, and have distinctive, strongly recurved tepals, lending the lily its whimsical common name.

The insides of the tepals are flecked with numerous deep maroon spots, and a green star is visible inside the corolla tube.

Its ornate blooms rival any lily that can be purchased at the nursery - especially considering as many as 70 of them can be found on a single plant!

There is at least one other lily species native to the eastern US that can be confused with the Turk's Cap: the Carolina Lily (Lilium michauxii).

Virginia Plant Atlas
It can be found within much of the same range as the Turk's Cap, and has the same strongly recurved tepals on its bloom. The Carolina typically only grows 2-4 feet tall, and lacks the green star in the flower center that the Turk's Cap has.

North Carolina Native Plant Society
It also prefers deciduous forests at lower elevations.

The Latin name for the Turk's Cap lily is Lilium superbum. 

Lilium of course, means "lily," and superbum - well,  I think you can figure that one out. :)

Superb is an excellent descriptor for such a noble plant.

Other common names for the Turk's Cap are Nodding Lily, Martagon, Swamp Lily, Turban Lily and Wild Tiger Lily.

The Turk's cap, like most species in the Lilium genus, has food, as well as ornamental value.

However, it would be sad to uproot one of our lovely native varieties for nothing more than a small side dish.

If you wish to dine on lilies, then the non-native Common Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) is a more sustainable choice.

Illinois Wildflowers
Native to Eurasia, it is commonly found escaped from cultivation along roadsides, field edges and abandoned home sites, usually forming large stands.

The early spring shoots make a nice vegetable when they are between 6-8 inches tall. They can be added to a salad, cooked into soup, stewed, sauteed or baked into a frittata. They have a mild onion flavor.

Minnesota Wildflowers
The flower buds are good cooked in soups or omelets, or simply sauteed in butter and salt.

The open blooms are nice in salads, cooked in soups, stuffed like squash blossoms, or used as a colorful garnish.

Click here for a recipe for Daylily Fritters.


Even the wilted flowers can be eaten, also good cooked into soups.

edible parts of the daylily
Their tubers can be peeled and eaten raw, or cooked like potatoes, having a starchy, slightly sweet flavor. The roots also add a thickening quality to soups and stews, and can be dried and pounded into flour.

Chestnut Herbs
While the roots can be harvested any time of the year, they are best when gathered in Autumn. Only select roots that are firm and plump.

To read more about eating Daylilies, here is a good article: Dining on Daylilies.

Use caution when consuming Day Lilies - they can cause vomiting or diarrhea if eaten in large quantities, or cause an allergic reaction in lesser quantities in some individuals.

Native lilies have also been valuable medicine to Native tribes and early settlers.

The Cherokee would use the Canada Lily (Lilium canadense) not only as an emergency food source, but would boil a decoction of the roots as a supplement to help skinny children gain weight. The plant was also used in a variety of ways to treat arthritis.

Canada Lily, Illinois Wildflowers
A plethora of bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds can be seen visiting Turk's Cap lilies for their nectar.

Deer and wild cottontails occasionally browse the new foliage, but almost nothing feeds on the plant once it is mature.

Turk's Cap Lily can add beauty and drama to your home landscaping, but please only purchase bulbs from a reputable nursery, and never take them from the wild.

It likes moist, acid, humus-rich soil, and prefers to grow with its roots in the shade and its head in the sun. 

There is nothing quite like stumbling across such a magnificent plant as you wind along a mountain back road or hike a trail through the Blue Ridge territory. 

The Turk's Cap Lily is indeed, the sultan of the forest.

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's Wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflower, Tall Bellflower

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower->


Eat The Weeds

Plants for a Future

Foraging and Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook - by Dina Falconi

All About Tennessee Wildflowers - Jan W. Midgley

Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians  - Dennis Horn & Tavia Cathcart

Cherokee Plants and Their Uses - a 400 Year History - Paul B. Hamel & Mary U. Chiltoskey


  1. Beautiful photos! I love wildflowers and can't wait to learn more from your posts! Following you on Bloglovin :)

  2. Ahhh, I love lilies! I didn't know even a portion of this about them though- now I want to try the non-native version I have for cooking. Looks great in the pics! Thank you! <3

    1. I'm eager to try daylilies, too! Although, I'm kind of afraid I would be one of the people who would have a bad reaction to them, lol.

  3. I have never seen this flower before! Thanks for linking up at the Weekend Blog Hop at My Flagstaff Home!


  4. What a fitting name! And what a beautiful flower! Love your description! It's not easy to describe a flower without putting people to sleep. But you are a pro!

    1. Thank you, Eva! One of my challenges as a Naturalist is to get people excited about mundane things,lol! Thanks for stopping by. :)

  5. These are absolutely beautiful! Unfortunately the deer eat my Tiger Lily's every year....what is weird is that they don't eat the wild ones down the street! lol My luck I suppose. I love the way these curl back though, just beautiful!

    Thanks for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday. I hope to see you back this week!