Know your flowers: When is a lily not a lily?

Not everything called a ‘lily’ really is one. Here’s our handy guide to telling which flowers are true lilies and which are only pretending…

Lilies pop up quite often in our arrangements, and in all sorts of wonderful colours. But not everything called a ‘lily’ really is one. Here’s our handy guide to telling which flowers are true lilies and which are only pretending…

A great many of the flowers we call lilies aren’t really lilies at all. A daylily, for example, isn’t a lily, and nor is a lily-of-the-valley. The orange flowers in this arrangement really are lilies, however, called LA lilies:

lilies orange

Confused? Well, most things to do with flower names are confusing, so don’t worry about it. The main point is that all ‘true’ lilies are members of the genus Lilium – which are herbaceous plants grown from bulbs, with large, showy flowers. Here’s a quick guide to the main ones…


True lilies

There are nine broad classifications of ‘true’ lily, with lots of species and hybrids in each, but three of the most popular are Asiatic, Oriental and Trumpet…

Asiatic hybrids

Blooming in early summer, these come in a veritable rainbow of colours including pinks, oranges, bright yellows, reds, purples and the purest of pure white. Asiatic lily flowers are medium-sized and face upwards or outwards (which means that in the garden they can fill up with rain and dust). They are splendid in cut flower arrangements, despite being mostly unscented.


Lilium Dimension. Image credit.


Oriental hybrids

Oriental lilies bloom later than Asiatic ones, and tend to be taller (up to eight foot for some garden varieties), larger and much more heavily scented – especially at night when they can positively fill a room with a distinctively exotic fragrance. They come in whites, pinks, reds and fancy two-colour blooms.


Our White Oriental lily arrangement at home, sent in by Freddie’s Flowers customer Anna Simpson


The ‘Stargazer’ Oriental lily. Image credit.


Trumpet lilies

Also known as Aurelian lilies, this group includes hybrids of Asiatic species, and their striking feature is the curious downward-facing trumpet shape of their huge flowers. Like the Oriental lilies, they’re tall and monstrously fragrant, especially at night.


Lilium ‘Fanfare’. Image credit.


Not true lilies

So those are some of the main true lilies. But what of the imposters? Here are some common lilies that actually aren’t…



Beloved of gardeners for being perfect, hardy perennials with countless varieties and colours, the ‘day’ part is fair enough (the flowers typically last no more than 24 hours) but ‘lilies’ they ain’t: they’re part of the genus Hemerocallis, not Lilium at all.


Daylilies. Image credit.



Although these are quite possibly the most famous ‘lilies’ of all and would score very highly on Pointless in a ‘name something called lily’ question, they’re actually aquatic plants in the family Nymphaeaceae. Sorry, Monet.


Monet, ‘Water lilies’ 1916. Matsukata Collection.


Lily of the Nile

Also known as Agapanthus (and featuring brilliantly in some of our boxes), these lovely flowers are in the family Amaryllidaceae. And they don’t grow by the Nile, either, since they’re native to more southerly parts of Africa.


Image credit.



Yes, the gladdie! Nicknamed ‘sword-lily’ because ‘gladiolus’ is the Ancient Roman for a ‘little sword’, which they look a bit like, gladioli are of course not lilies. But they are glorious: read our complete guide to gladioli here.

Pam Fairless Gladioli via FB


Lily Allen

Not a member of the Lilium family but rather a London-based entertainment dynasty, this Lily is famous for saying lots of very funny things, such as ‘The Mail Online is like carbs – you know you shouldn’t, but you do. Probably two or three times a day’. And: ‘The press are trying to make me out to be this really bitchy, cocky, horrible lady, and I’m actually not… Well, I am a bit.’


Not a ‘true’ Lily. Image credit: Warner Music Sweden.


Lily the Pink

Not a true lily, but a hit song by 1960s novelty pop act The Scaffold, whose members included the Scouse poet Roger McGough, comic John Gorman (who couldn’t sing) and Paul McCartney’s younger brother Mike.

See if you can (a) spot which is which, and (b) recall all the words from when you were at school…


So now you know how to spot a true lily. Of course, we love them all, even the pretend ones. And if you love flowers too – in all their glorious, home-transforming colours and scents – why not sign up for weekly flower deliveries at £24 a pop?


Leave a Reply