Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Stems of this perennial may be up to two feet tall. The narrow leaves are about two inches long. The deep orange or red flowers are up to three inches wide with black spots on the bases of the petals and sepals. Seeds are produced in 3-sided capsules slightly over an inch long. Wild lily also reproduces vegetatively from white underground bulbs that lie about two inches below ground level. When mature, these bulbs are composed of several dozen starchy scales that can be dispersed by rodents or by other means. At favorable sites, uneaten scales can form new plants.
In our area, wild lily is found in moist, low-lying prairie that is not heavily grazed or regularly mowed for hay. As more land is cultivated, land use becomes more intense, and use of herbicides increases, wild lily is becoming increasingly difficult to find and probably should not be picked or dug up, lest we lose it from our flora.
The bulbs of this plant were boiled and eaten like potatoes by native Americans. The Cree called the plant "mouse-root" because of its association with voles. The lily family (Liliaceae) also includes the edible onion, garlic, and asparagus, but also contains poisonous plants such as death camas and hellebore.
Lily is the classical Latin name for these plants and the specific name philadelphicum means "of Philadelphia" in botanical Latin. Wild lily was first described by the famous Swedish botanist Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) in 1753. Botanists consider Linnaeus' Species Plantarum to contain the first scientifically acceptable descriptions of plants.