yellow tiger lily; was: Re: double-flowered tiger lily; was: Re: [pbs] Bulb Odds and end

Jim McKenney
Tue, 13 Jul 2004 09:41:45 PDT
At 07:49 AM 7/13/2004 -800, Roger Whitlock wrote:

>Does anyone know anything about a *yellow* form of the tiger lily? 

Thank you, Roger, for opening one of my favorite can-of-worms topics.

In short, as far as I'm concerned, there is not and never has been such a
thing as a yellow tiger lily. For that matter, I'll present the argument
that there is no one such thing as the tiger lily. Read on. 

First of all, let's get one trivial nuisance out of the way. Mass
distribution catalogs for years have sold something they call a yellow
tiger lily. This is in fact a yellow flowered 1c Asiatic hybrid (or maybe
several hybrids). Let's hope that's not what you got as a yellow tiger lily. 

Now on to the meat of the matter. Among "serious" lily fanciers, there have
been over the decades plants making the rounds as Lilium tigrinum
flaviflorum - aka Lilium lancifolium flaviflorum. An IPNI query came up
blank for flaviflorum used with Lilium tigrinum or L. lancifolium. (Partick
Synge in his Lilies attributes the name to Makino in 1933). I don't know
the origin of these plants. The ones I've seen are not yellow tiger lilies.
That is to say, they are not simply a typical garden tiger lily with yellow
flowers. They tend to bloom earlier and have a slightly different poise to
the flower. My guess is that they are tiger lily seedlings (more about this

To really answer your question, the tiger lily itself has to be put into
context. When the tiger lily was introduced to Europe, it was assumed to be
a new species of lily, and the name Lilium tigrinum was used for it for
well over a century. (It is only relatively recently that Thungerg's name
L. lancifolium has been widely accepted as pertaining to this "species".)
But those are merely nomenclatural quibbles. In all the squabbling over
which name is correct, I think the real issue has been ignored. The real
issue is this: does the tiger lily deserve consideration as a species, or
is it something else? And if it is something else, does it even deserve a
botanical name?

As far as I'm concerned, it's something else. A growing number of modern
liriophiles regard the tiger lily as of hybrid origin. Now, at this point
in this tangled tale I should point out that by tiger lily I mean the
triploid tiger lilies. There are other plants, probably diploid, which at
various times in the past have been put forward as the "true diploid
species" of tiger lily. 

In the past, the existence of such diploid plants would have been hard to
explain or ignore. Now we know better. European lily hybridists early on
were able to use the tiger lily in their hybridizing efforts in spite of
the fact that the tiger lily was virtually universally regarded as a
sterile triploid. We now know that stray unreduced gametes occur
occasionally in pollen - tetraploid gametes. Tiger lilies readily form seed
from compatible tetraploid pollen. That business about "sterile triploids"
was a myth. 

And what do you get when you plant those seeds? Well, it depends on the
plant which provided the pollen. But if tiger lilies are pollinated with
tetraploid pollen derived from a lily like a tiger lily, you get lots of
seedlings which look like tiger lilies. I know this from personal
experience. The odds are that some will be diploids, some triploids. The
diploids have the potential to form the nucleus of a diploid tiger
lily-like population. 

I subscribe to the hypothesis that the so-called diploid tiger lilies are
in fact tiger lily seedlings. In other words, the triploid tiger lilies are
not derived from these diploid plants, it's the other way around: the
diploids are derived from the triploids. 

And I also believe that the so-called yellow tiger lilies are derived in
the same way. They are seedlings of the triploid tiger lilies. Perhaps you
are thinking "if they are seedlings of the triploid tiger lilies, why are
they not yellow tiger lilies?" Because another parent was involved, the
parent which provided the unreduced gamete, the tetraploid gamete which
fertilized the triploid gamete of the tiger lily. This hypothesis makes
sense to me if only because it accounts for the small but significant
differences to be observed between true triploid tiger lilies and these
so-called yellow tiger lilies. 

BTW, it's not impossible that even a triploid tiger lily itself could
provide suitable pollen, but the odds against this must be astronomical. In
that case, the seedlings would be "pure" tiger lily; but since the tiger
lily itself appears to be of hybrid origin, what you get is more hybrids -
something homologous to a horticultural strain.

In a sense, there is really no such thing as the tiger lily. The term is
used for a group of clones (clones in the original sense of the word,
definitely not in the contemporary sense) of presumably similar but
independent origin. Another way to say it is to say that tiger lilies are

Can of worms, right?

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where our worms don't come
out of cans.    


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