While thumbing through catalogues of spring bulbs for autumn planting, I came upon a selection of species Turk’s-cap lilies, with backward-arching reflexed tepals and petals, dangling in clusters from tall stems. The long stamens and prominent stigma balance the eccentric, curling petals above as they form a turban shape. These are oddly formed flowers, with parts going in opposite directions, and many species lilies have this form.
I once had a thick stand of tiger lilies (Lilium superbum) that increased abundantly in moist soil. These were the spotted orange lilies with dangling Turk’s-cap flowers sometimes seen in wet ground along roadsides, not to be confused with the orange or tawny daylily (Hemerocallis fulva), known as the ditch lily. Tiger lilies produce prominent black bulbils in their leaf axils. The bulbils are ready to be collected in midsummer, when a gentle nudge detaches them from the stem. Plant the bulbils in pots right away or in prepared bed; they’ll flower in their fourth season of growth. After that, you’ve got them forever, so long as their soil remains consistently moist.
Many regions seem to have their own species of dangling Turk’s-cap, such as the Michigan lily (L. michiganense), which looks like every other roadside Turk’s-cap to me. (I might be irritating the members of several lily societies by not noticing the differences.) I also grew some tall leopard or panther lilies (L. pardalinum), which grow from a rhizome and not a bulb, reaching a height of six feet (1.8 m) and needing stakes. Their small orange and yellow flowers were similar in size and form to martagon lilies, with irregular blotches instead of neat dots. (These spots and blotches must mean something to bees and butterflies.) Unfortunately, their soil became too dry, and the leopard lilies dwindled out.
I’m inclined to grow some Turk’s-caps again. On my list is L. henryi (7 feet / 2 m), a flamboyant orange turban-shaped flower with black spots and uniquely textured petals. Another is a hybrid, L. ‘Citronella’ (Zone 4, 5 ft. / 1.5 m), which is deep yellow with black spots and smooth petals. Both are perfumed, adding to the joy.
Other choices I considered are the coral lily (L. tenuifolium, Zone 4, 2 to 3 feet / 60 to 90 cm), slightly smaller in scale and intensely scarlet, with no spots to mark its petals. The purple martagon lily (L. martagon, Zone 3, 3 to 4 feet / 90-120 cm), with flights of butterfly-like, dusky pink turbans dangling from tall stems was tempting, too.
But what to do about scarlet lily beetles (Lilioceris lilii), which have been decimating lily and fritillaria flowers? The beetles hibernate in the soil over winter, and come out in spring to graze their way through buds, flowers and foliage, laying their red eggs on the undersides of the leaves. It’s possible to make a dent in the population by capturing as many adults as possible (and sending them for a soapy bath in a bucket) in spring, as well as searching the backs of leaves for the eggs in summer.
I’ve fallen short on consistently monitoring this problem, and intend to try a different strategy. I’ll plant the lilies in large containers and, if necessary, provide tomato cages or slim bamboo stakes for support. These lilies might have enough cold hardiness to survive outdoors, planted in large stone containers, but I’ll put them in big, movable pots and overwinter them in the garage. Although scarlet lily beetles can fly, I’m hoping they might not find these Turk’s-caps on the elevated back deck. It’s an experiment, and I just might get away with it.