What is a Tiger Lily?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Several different plants go by the name of “tiger lily,” including some true lilies and one plant which is not even a lily at all. All of these plants share the trait of having orange to reddish flowers with flexed petals, some of which bear dark spots. Tiger lilies are often grown as ornamental plants in the garden, and they thrive in USDA zones three to 11, making them very versatile flowers.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Among the true lilies, plants in the genus Lilium, no less than four plants have the common name “tiger lily.” This includes the Wood Lily and Michigan Lily, two varietals native to North America which are considered endangered, along with L. lancifolium, an Asiatic lily, and L. columbianum, a North American lily. The Asiatic lily known commonly as “tiger lily” is probably the most famous of the tiger lilies, and it bears the distinctive dark spots and deeply flexed petals which people associated with tiger lilies.

In the case of true lilies known as tiger lilies, the cultivation directions are all fairly similar. Gardeners can generally only access the Asiatic and non-endangered North American lily which bear this common name, and these plants prefer well-drained soil, partial sun, and mulch during the winter to protect the tender bulbs. In the spring, the plants can be fertilized to promote growth, and they should be divided every three to four years so that the bulbs do not become crowded.

In the case of Hemeocallis fulva, another plant known as a tiger lily, the cultivation directions are a bit different. This plant propagates via tuberous roots, and it can in fact be quite invasive, as some gardeners have learned to their chagrin. The flowers and foliage look similar to that of true lilies, but this plant is much hardier. It prefers wet soil and does not need to be fertilized or divided, making it an ideal low-maintenance plant for the garden, as long as gardeners are prepared to curb its tendency to spread.

In both cases, tiger lilies tend to look best when they are planted in clumps or clusters, as this allows them to spread. The plants can begin to look slightly ragged at times, and planting in a clump will help reduce a scrubby or ragged appearance. The plants may also need to be staked if they grow especially tall, or the tiger lily stems will start to droop and drag on the ground.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


There are many places that have tiger lily bulbs for sale, and although I have many tiger lilies in my yard, I have never bought any for myself. One of my neighbors has a huge yard with many kinds of flowers and all of my bulbs have come from him.

Tiger lilies are some of the bulbs that he digs up every so often and sets them outside in a tub for anyone to help themselves. This was my first exposure to growing Tiger lilies and I love their bright colors and how easy they are to grow.

I don't have nearly the extensive flower garden that my neighbor has, but these flowers bring a bright spot to my yard that is very enjoyable.


Every few years I divide my tiger lily bulbs and share them with any family and friends who want to have some of these distinct flowers in their yard.

The fun part about this, is that it encourages my plants to be healthier, but I also get to enjoy these beautiful blooms when I visit my friends and family who have planted them.

Growing tiger lilies is not hard, as they have a wild growing nature to them. I have the best luck if I plant them in the fall and make sure the soil does not get too dry.


I have some large rocks in my yard and have used a blend of yellow and orange tiger lilies as a colorful accent by these rocks. They have such big, beautiful blooms that are quite hardy and will cover a large area very nicely.

I grow them because of they are very eye catching and love their floral beauty. In the Orient they grow them to eat their bulbs. Baked lily bulbs have been said to taste like potatoes.

Although this sounds very interesting, I think I will stick to using them as rock garden accents.

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