If the wood lilies are not blooming near you, they should be soon. They are perhaps the showiest wildflower in the state. They grow to a height of around 1-2 feet, and at the top of the stem are 1-3 bright burnt orange flowers about 2 and a half inches across with six reddish-orange petals that are yellow at the base with dark spots. Actually there are petals and sepals that look alike, or what botanists call tepals. At any rate, the size and color of this member of the lily family can turn a wet meadow into riot of color.
Wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum), sometimes called wild lily or wild tiger lily was described by Linnaeus in 1762, apparently to honor Philadelphia or perhaps because it was first collected in that area. It is native to much of the United States and Canada. Here in North Dakota it may be found across the state with perhaps the exception of the far southwest part of the state. Its habitat includes low prairie and wet meadows as well as brushy hillsides and open woods. It may also be occasionally observed in road ditches particularly where the ditch is composed of mainly native vegetation.
The showy color of wood lily has led many people to transplant them to gardens. However, they do not transplant well, and no doubt many populations of wood lilies have been decimated by collecting as well as other factors such as overgrazing and the conversion of prairie to cropland. The species is now considered threatened or endangered in several states. Thankfully North Dakota is not one of them. But for those of you interested in adding this colorful and interesting wildflower, there is good news. Seeds and plants are now available from nurseries and also online.
Although the most widely used common name for this plant in North Dakota is wood lily, it is often called western red lily in parts of Canada, particularly in Saskatchewan where it has been designated the Provincial floral emblem. As such, the species has been given legal protection from being picked, uprooted, or disturbed in any way.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.