Types of lilies

Species lilies

Species lilies are those that grow in the wild. They are generally less showy than the hybrids but are more varied in their individual characteristics and many possess a special charm not found in the hybrids. Some are as tough and easy to grow as the hybrids, some require a little more care, and some provide a stiff challenge for even the most skilful of growers.

To see photos of species lilies click:

Species Lilies

Species Lilies A-Z

Hybrid lilies

Hybrid lilies are more vigorous, more showy, more tolerant of less-than-ideal conditions than the species lilies and are available in an enormous variety of colours, forms and sizes. Some are beautifully and powerfully scented while others have no scent. The challenge of creating something new is what draws many growers to hybridising lilies.

To see photos of hybrid lilies click:

Hybrid Lilies

Close relatives

The RHS Lily Group is not just about lilies, but also about other members of the Liliaceae family. These include:

Cardiocrinums Once part of the genus Lilium, they have now been separated into a genus of their own. The flowers are clearly very similar to lilies, but these are tall plants – Cardiocrinum giganteum grows to about two metres. You will have to be patient to grow these though – bulbs are rarely available and they take about seven years to flower from seed.

Cardiocrinum cordatum red form


Cardiocrinum giganteum – white form from Sikkim

Nomocharis are very similar to some of the smaller lilies and have open fairly flat flowers. In the wild, they occur  in the mountains of Yunnan, Sichuan, Tibet and Myanmar. Botanists now mostly agree that Nomocharis are essentially flat-flowered lilies, something supported by DNA evidence.

Nomocharis aperta

Fritillaria These are mostly much smaller than lilies, apart from a few big species such as Fritillaria persica and the well-known Fritillaria imperialis (crown imperials). They do not have the flamboyant beauty of lilies, more of a quiet, simple elegance and they have the great virtue of coming up and flowering early, while many of their lily cousins are still only thinking of getting out of bed. One species, the chequered purple-flowered Fritillaria meleagris (snakehead fritillary), grows in the wild in Britain and is easy to grow especially in damp places and may be obtained from non-specialist sources.

Erythroniums Sometimes referred to as “dog-tooth violets” these are elegant plants which thrive in light shade at the woodland edge and appreciate well-drained soil with plenty of leafmould. The greatest range of species is found in North America but they are also native to Europe and to Japan. Several species are grown for their attractively marbled leaves as well as their delicate flowers. Erythronium dens canis and E. revolutum are good options to start with . There are also a number of vigorous and easy hybrids, notably ‘White Beauty’ and the larger and bolder ‘Pagoda’ with its bright yellow flowers.

Erythronium multiscapoideum

Tulipa We are so familiar with the big blowsy tulips planted en masse in parks and municipal gardens that the dainty, elegant little species tulips are often overlooked. They make interesting subjects for growing in pots, rockeries and other out-of-the-way places. One species, the yellow-flowered Tulipa sylvestris, grows in the wild in Britain.

To see more photos of other Liliaceae click:

Other Liliaceae

Not lilies at all

The lilies we are referring to on this site are true lilies – those that belong to the genus Lilium. There are many other plants that include ‘lily’ in their name, but are not really lilies at all, such as water lilies, lily of the valley and day lilies.