Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Also called "sand lily", and "star lily", mountain lily only occurs in a few of the southwesternmost counties in North Dakota. Elsewhere, the plant can be found from Nebraska to New Mexico, California, and Oregon.
Mountain lily is a stemless perennial from short, fleshy roots. Each plant has about a dozen grasslike leaves about six inches long that overtop the flowers, and are surrounded at the base by papery white sheaths. The fragrant white flowers are up to one and a half inches wide, and include a slender tube nearly four inches long. At the bottom of the tube are the ovaries and seed capsules which mature below ground. Seeds are black.
This species likes sandy or gravelly shortgrass prairies and foothills that are moderately or heavily grazed. The plant is never abundant enough to be important forage for livestock. The species has been suggested for cultivation as an ornamental.
Mountain lily is a member of the lily family (Liliaceae). This family is among the great class of plants called monocotyledons because the embryos have a single "seed-leaf" (cotyledon). Most other plants have two. The generic name was compounded from the Greek leuco, "white", and krinon, "lily". The specific epithet montanum means "of mountains" in botanical Latin. Mountain lily was described for science in the early 1800's by the famous English botanist-naturalist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859).