The Lilies and Related Families

Northern White Colicroot Swamp-pink Orange Day-lily Virginia Spiderwort

What are they?

The Lily Family was, at one time, a very large family of plant species, but these days most botanists recognise a number of closely-related families. For ease of reference, these new families are kept together here. Some of the species included are not particularly closely related to the Lily Family, but are placed here as they often look similar in their leaves and general appearance.


Plants in this group usually have either long, grass-like leaves, or leaves arranged in whorls around the stem. Flower parts are typically arranged in threes and sixes. Many species are readily identifiable by their flowers, in others, attention to leaf and/or stem detail may be necessary.

Though the word petal is used here in reference to the colored part of the flower, in fact, members of this group have flowers that don't have the usual sepals and petals but have a single group of parts which are normally called tepals. The tepals may be free (appearing like six petals) or fused to form a tube-shaped structure.

Goldencrest      Lophiola aurea

A scarce species of acid sphagnum bogs in southeastern North America which reaches its northernmost limit in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Rare in Cape May County but can be found in old cranberry bogs. Flowers late June to July. The densely white-woolly stems are distinctive and most noticeable after flowering.
Goldencrest Goldencrest Goldencrest Goldencrest
Flower close-up
Seed heads

Northern White Colicroot      Aletris farinosa

Frequent in sandy, open fields and other dry areas. Superficially resembles an orchid but note that all six petals are of equal size and shape. Note also the six orange stamens. Flowers June to July.
Northern White Colicroot Northern White Colicroot Northern White Colicroot Northern White Colicroot
Flowers rough-textured
on outside
Basal leaves
Seed heads rough
like flowers

Swamp-pink      Helonias bullata

A once frequent but now scarce and still declining plant of old, wet woodland. The pink spikes of this plant are a fabulous sight in spring, but all too rarely seen. Flowers April to May.
Swamp-pink Swamp-pink Swamp-pink Swamp-pink
Flower spike
Flowers pink with
maroon center
Leaves emerge at
flowering time
Seed capsule

Green False-helleborine      Veratrum viride

A rare plant in Cape May county, for many years only known from a single location. Typically grows in rich, wet woods, often among stands of Skunk-cabbage, where its leaves could easily be overlooked. Flowers late May to June. Note that this plant is often erroneously called 'false hellebore' in many books; false-helleborines are named for their similarity to the helleborine orchids, not the dissimilar hellebores.
Green False-helleborine Green False-helleborine Green False-helleborine Green False-helleborine
Flower spike
Flower close-up
Leaf base and stem

Indian Cucumber-root      Medeola virginiana

(Indian Cucumber) An unusual-looking plant that is easily recognised once found, though its small flowers are hard to spot in the dappled light of the shady woodland floors that it favors. A plant of deep, loamy soils which is more common further north in New Jersey than it is in Cape May county. Flowers late May to June. Stems have two whorls of leaves, the lower whorl with more leaflets than the upper whorl. Non-flowering plants are often found, which only have the lower whorl of leaves.
Indian Cucumber-root Indian Cucumber-root Indian Cucumber-root Indian Cucumber-root
Flowering stem
Lower leaf whorl

Indian Cucumber-root Indian Cucumber-root
Upper whorl with
unripe berry
Ripe berry

Tiger Lily      Lilium lancifolium

Native of Asia and occasionally found as a garden throughout. Flowers July. Flowers usually orange with black spots, but may be any shade of red, orange, yellow or white. Plants produce small, dark bulbils along the stem in the leaf axils; these drop off and root into the ground to produce new plants.
Tiger Lily Tiger Lily Tiger Lily Tiger Lily
Leaves long and pointed
Bulbils in leaf axils

American Turk's-cap Lily      Lilium superbum

Turk's-cap Lilies are so spectacular that it's hard to believe that they really are native here and not some exotic garden escape. Leaves are in whorls up the stem and flower color varies but is usually a shade of orange or red. Stems can reach five to six feet in height. Likes damp areas in woodland clearings. Flowers late June to August.
American Turk's-cap Lily American Turk's-cap Lily American Turk's-cap Lily American Turk's-cap Lily
Note reflexed petals
Most flowers heavily
spotted with purple
Seed pod

Yellow Star-grass      Hypoxis hirsuta

A cheerful spring plant with bright yellow flowers, found in sandy fields and woodland clearings. Leaves are very grass-like but distinctly covered in silky white hairs. Flowers late April to June.
Yellow Star-grass Yellow Star-grass Yellow Star-grass Yellow Star-grass
Six-petalled flowers
Flowers green on the back
Leaves with long
white hairs

Sessile-leaved Bellwort      Uvularia sessilifolia

Occasional in damp, loamy soils in deciduous woodland. Flowers April to May. Rather similar to the solomon's-seals but flowers are solitary and without green markings.
Sessile-leaved Bellwort Sessile-leaved Bellwort Sessile-leaved Bellwort Sessile-leaved Bellwort
Stems often forked into two
Seed capsule

Perfoliate Bellwort      Uvularia perfoliata

Rare, but perhaps easily overlooked in damp, loamy soils in deciduous woodland. Flowers April to May. Very similar to Sessile-leaved Bellwort, but easily told by the way the leaves attach to the stem.
Perfoliate Bellwort Perfoliate Bellwort Perfoliate Bellwort Perfoliate Bellwort
Leaf bases enclose stem
Seed capsule

Common Asparagus      Asparagus officinalis

(Garden Asparagus) Introduced from Europe and now widely naturalized. Not uncommon in all kinds of open, usually grassy, places. Flowers May to June. Contrary to popular belief, asparagus is not a grass, but a member of the lily family. The part we eat is the young, emerging stem, before the leaves have fully developed.
Common Asparagus Common Asparagus Common Asparagus Common Asparagus
Flowers small and
easily missed
Typical spring shoot
Mature leaves

Orange Day-lily      Hemerocallis fulva

Though fabulous as a garden plant, this Asian species has escaped into the wider countryside and has become a problematic invasive alien in some places. This is a very common species in parts of Cape May County, especially south of Cape May Canal. Seed pods rarely ripen here and the plant mostly spreads by underground rhizomes. Flowers June to July.
Orange Day-lily Orange Day-lily Orange Day-lily Orange Day-lily
Flowers held well above
the leaves
Close-up of flower

Meadow Garlic      Allium canadense

An uncommon species which favors damp grassy habitats on the edges of wetland areas. Flowers May to June. As with many Allium species, the flowering heads may consist of either true flowers or bulbils, or a mixture of both. Differs from the much more common Wild Onion by having pink scapes (the outer covering of the flower head).
Meadow Garlic Meadow Garlic Meadow Garlic Meadow Garlic
Flowering head
Flower head close-up
Flowerhead scape is pink

Wild Onion      Allium vineale

(Field or Wild Garlic) A widespread and often abundant alien introduction from Europe, found commonly on roadsides, fields and other open areas. Flowers June to August. Leaves, which are tubular like those of Chives, appear first and usually wither before flowering time. Flowers emerge from a papery sheath called a scape. This plant has an unusual appearance as most flowering spikes have the flowers replaced by bulbils, which develop into young plants before dropping off. Flowers may be white or pale pinkish.
Wild Onion Wild Onion Wild Onion Wild Onion
Head with bulbils
Head emerging from scape
Head with flowers
Leaves often curly

Garlic Chives      Allium tuberosum

Native to Asia but a popular plant for the herb garden. Though this species has the potential to spread readily into the wider countryside, it is so far only been found as a roadside weed in Cape May Point. Flowers August to September. Flowers pure white and appearing later in the year than other onion species. Leaves broad and grass-like, but fleshy and narrowly triangular in cross-section.
Garlic Chives Garlic Chives Garlic Chives Garlic Chives
Head emerging from scape
Leaves flattened

Common Snowdrop      Galanthus nivalis

Introduced from Europe. An occasional escape from gardens, found in odd spots here and there where garden refuse is deposited. Sometimes spreads naturally from planted areas, especially in cemeteries. Flowers February to March. A very early flowerer, occasionally appearing as early as January. Flowers appear to be three-petalled, but are actually six-petalled with the inner three fused into a tube. Often grown as a rather lumpy-looking double-flowered form which has little of the charm and grace of the wild parent. Leaves continue to grow for a while after flowering and often turn to one side.
Common Snowdrop Common Snowdrop Common Snowdrop Common Snowdrop
Double-flowered form
Seed pods

Spring Starflower      Tristagma uniflorum

Not officially recorded as established in Cape May County, this South American species is often grown as a garden bulb and could be found as an escape from cultivation in built up areas. Colonies of this plant can currently be found spreading from flower borders into neighboring grass at Cape May Point. Flowers late April to May.
Spring Starflower Spring Starflower Spring Starflower
Usually forms dense clumps
Tepals pale lilac
fading to white
Tepals joined into
a tube at base

Common Daffodil      Narcissus pseudonarcissus forms and hybrids

Not officially recorded as established in Cape May County, daffodils occasionally may be found as a result of garden waste being deposited on waste ground or roadsides. Occasionally, bulbs may be planted for commemorative reasons and appear to be growing wild. Flowers late April to May. Most daffodils grown in gardens these days are cultivated forms of the European Wild Daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus. However, much selective breeding has produced a huge range of forms, many of which bear little resemblance to the original species. They vary in color and size and may be single- or double-flowered. Deliberate crossing with other daffodil species to produce hybrids has also added to the variety.
Common Daffodil Common Daffodil Common Daffodil Common Daffodil
Cultivated form
Cultivated form
Hybrid Daffodil
Double-flowered form

Pheasant's-eye Daffodil      Narcissus poeticus

(Poet's Narcissus) As with Common Daffodil, this species is not officially recorded as occurring in a natural state in New Jersey, but is sometimes found where it has been planted or discarded and can appear to be wild. Flowers early May. There is a certain amount of variation in the appearance of Pheasant's-eye Daffodils, largely due to selective breeding to produce different colors and forms, as well as artificial hybridization with other species. Many plants in cultivation are of the form 'Actaea' which has larger flowers with wider petals than the true species. The plants here are rather pale in the center and are not entirely typical of the true species.
Pheasant's-eye Daffodil Pheasant's-eye Daffodil

Carolina Redroot      Lachnanthes caroliniana

Local but can be very common where it occurs, in cranberry bogs and swampy grassland. Flowers tend to open just a few at a time so the plant could never be described as 'showy'. The whole plant is covered in white, woolly hairs. Flowers June to August.
Carolina Redroot Carolina Redroot Carolina Redroot Carolina Redroot
Flowering head
Leaf base sheaths stem
Fruiting head

Asiatic Day-flower      Commelina communis

Though there are native species of day-flower in North America, the only species known from Cape May County is this one, a native of Asia. Occurs in a wide range of habitats, but especially shady field edges and roadsides. Flowers June to September, occasionally later.
Asiatic Day-flower Asiatic Day-flower Asiatic Day-flower Asiatic Day-flower
Flower with two blue petals
and white bottom petal

Virginia Spiderwort      Tradescantia virginiana

Listed as native in New Jersey but currently in Cape May county, only known from roadsides and waste corners where garden refuse may have been dumped. A popular garden plant. Flowers May to July.
Virginia Spiderwort Virginia Spiderwort Virginia Spiderwort Virginia Spiderwort