Lily Family

Compiled by Marc Williams                                June 7, 2011

Liliaceae / Lily Family / Liliales

A link to a photo album of members of the Liliaceae using an older broader taxonomic definition of the family can be seen a Thomas Elpel’s site below.


The taxonomy of the Lily family has undergone great change in the last 20 years. Many new families have been created from genera that were formerly included in Liliaceae. The following commentary reflects a number of recent sources (Heywood, Brummitt, Culham, & Seberg, 2007; Judd, Campbell, Kellog, Stevens, & Donahue, 2008; Spears, 2006). However, the ethnobotanical treatment after follows from the historic classification of Liliaceae.


Agavaceae                Agave, Camassia, Chlorogalum, Hesperaloe, Manfreda, Yucca

Alliaceae                    Allium, Nothoscordum, Tulbaghia

Amaryllidaceae,           Amaryllis, Crinum, Galanthus, Hymenocallis, Leucojum, Narcissus, Nerine and Zephyranthes

Asparagaceae              Asparagus, Hemiphylacus

Asphodelaceae            Aloe, Bulbine

Hemerocallidaceae      Dianella, Hemerocallis, Phormium

Hyacinthaceae             Eucomis, Hyacinthoides, Hyacinthus, Muscari, Ornithogalum, Scilla

            Hypoxidaceae             Hypoxis

Iridaceae                     Belamcanda, Crocosmia, Crocus, Gladiolus, Iris, Sisyrinchium,  

Ruscaceae                   Convallaria, Dracaena, Liriope, Maianthemum, Nolina, Polygonatum, Sansevieria

Themidaceae               Brodiaea

Liliales (Spots on tepals, nectaries at base of tepals (Judd et al., 2008).

            Alstroemeriaceae         Alstroemeria, Bomarea

Colchicaceae               Colchicum, (Disporum syn. Prosartes), Gloriosa, Uvularia,

Liliaceae                      Calochortus, Clintonia, Erythronium, Fritillaria, Lilium, Medeola, Prosartes, Streptopus, and Tulipa.

Melanthiaceae             Amianthium, Chamaelirium, Helonias, Stenanthium, VeratrumXerophyllum and Zigadenus

            Smilacaceae                 Smilax

Trilliaceae                    Trillium

Nartheciaceae              Narthecium and Aletris

Tofieldiaceae               Tofieldia


Fairy Bells (Disporum) is now in the genus Prosartes. Both Solomon’s Plume (Smilacina racemosa) and Starry Solomon’s Plume (S. stellata) are now Maianthemum racemosum and Maianthemum stellatum repectively (Weakley, 2008). Trillium may also be placed in the Melanthiaceae (Heywood et al., 2007; Weakley, 2008).  Convallaria, Liriope, Maianthemum and Polygonatum are sometimes included in the Convallariaceae (Heywood et al., 2007). Clintonia is sometimes included in the Colchicaceae (Heywood et al., 2007).


Quite a few members of the Liliaceae have been used for food but one must be aware of potential DEADLY LOOK ALIKES The following table shows information from the incredible resource Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America by Francois Couplan (1998).

Brodiaea spp.



Small sweet corms eaten by Western Indians

Calochortus  spp.

Mariposa Lily

The bulbs of numerous species have been consumed by Western Native Americans

Clintonia borealis

Bluebead Lily

Young leaves raw, older leaves cooked

Clintonia umbellulata

White Wood Lily

Young leaves raw, older leaves cooked

Erythronium albidum

White Trout Lily

Corms used as food

Erythronium grandiflorum

Yellow Avalanche Lily

Corms used as food

Erythronium americanum

American Trout Lily

Corms used as food

Fritillaria atropurpurea

Spotted Checker Lily

Bulbs eaten raw boiled or dried

Fritillaria pudica

Yellow Fritillary

Bulbs eaten raw boiled or dried

Lilium bulbiferum

Orange Lily

Grown for edible bulbs in Asia escaped in the Northeast U.S.

Lilium lancifolium syn Lilium tigrinum

Tiger Lily

Grown for edible bulbs in Asia escaped in the Northeast U.S.

Medeola virginiana

Indian Cucumber

Roots is crisp and juicy and was consumed by natives as the common name suggests

Muscari neglectum syn M. racemosum

Starch Grape Hyacinth

Small sweet roots eaten in Europe



Other bulbs and rhizomes of a number of plants from the Lily family have been consumed after very thorough and proper cooking including Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum), Smooth Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and Tassel Grape Hyacinth (Muscari comosum) Citation.


The Bella Coola and other Native American tribes used the tea of Bride’s Bonnet (Clintonia uniflora) as a body wash (Foster & Hobbs, 2002). Solomon’s Seal is a famous medicinal from the Southeast and Europe. Aloe (Aloe vera) is well known for its soothing sap that is used for burns and also internally for improving digestive functioning.


Several members of the Liliaceae are famous for the poisons they contain. Cardiac glycocides are present in Lily of the Valley (Convallaria spp.), Squill (Scilla spp.), and Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum spp.) (Nelson, Shih, & Balick, 2007). Sodium channel activators are present in Death Camas (Zigadenus), Feathershank (Schoenocaulon) and False Hellebore (Veratrum) (Nelson et al., 2007). Hyacinth (Hyacinthus spp.) and Tulips (Tulipa spp.) can cause contact dermatitis (Nelson et al., 2007). Steroidal saponins may also occur in the Liliaceae (Wink & Van Wyk, 2008). The bulbs of the European Frittilary (Fritillaria meleagris) contain a very toxic alkaloid called imperialine (Couplan, 1998).


A few plants have been used as natural dyes including;

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) (J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003).

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) (Eaton, 1973; Fern, 2008; A. Krochmal & C. Krochmal, 1974; Nicholson & Clovis, 1967)

Tulip (Tulipa sp.) (Eaton, 1973).

Other Crafts:

Quite a few members of the Liliaceae group have been used for crafts and aesthetic purposes. Bear Grass (Xerophyllum) is used for making baskets (Judd et al., 2008). Many members of the former/current Liliaceae make great cut flowers including, Lilium spp., Tulipa spp., Hemerocallis fulva, and Convallaria spp. Some members also have fabulous smells including Hyacinth (Hyacinthus), Grape Hyacinth (Muscari botryoides), Daffodil (Narcissus spp.), and Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus).


Creeping Turf Lily (Liriope spicata) is considered invasive in MD and TN and Grape Hyacinth (Muscari botryoides) in those two and WV as well (Burrell, 2006). Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum spp.) is invasive in many parts of the Northeast (Burrell, 2006). Occasionally, Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) can escape from cultivation. However, tubers, shoots and flowers are all edible (Couplan, 1998).

Literature Cited

Burrell, C. C. (2006). Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Cannon, J., & Cannon, M. (2003). Dye Plants and Dyeing. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Couplan, F. (1998). The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America. New Canaan, CT: Keats Pub.

Eaton, A. H. (1973). Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands. New York: Dover Publications.

Fern, K. (2008). Plants for a future - 7300 useful plants database. Plants For a  Future. Retrieved April 23, 2009, from

Foster, S., & Hobbs, C. (2002). A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Peterson field guide series; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Heywood, V. H., Brummitt, R. K., Culham, A., & Seberg, O. (2007). Flowering Plant Families of the World (Revised.). Buffalo, NY; Richmond Hill, Ont.: Firefly Books.

Judd, W. S., Campbell, C. S., Kellog, E. A., Stevens, P. F., & Donahue, M. J. (2008). Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach (3rd ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

Krochmal, A., & Krochmal, C. (1974). The Complete Illustrated Book of Dyes from Natural Sources. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Nelson, L. S., Shih, R. D., & Balick, M. J. (2007). Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.

Nicholson, S. M., & Clovis, J. F. (1967). Dye Plants and Dye Methods in West Virginia. Castanea, 32(2), 111-116. doi:10.2307/4032274

Spears, P. (2006). A Tour of the Flowering Plants: Based on the Classification System of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group. St. Louis, MO: Missouri Botanical Garden Press.

Weakley, A. (2008). Flora of the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, northern Florida, and surrounding areas (Working Draft April.). Chapel Hill, NC: North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Wink, M., & Van Wyk, B.-E. (2008). Mind-Altering and Poisonous Plants of the World (1st ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.



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