The Tiger Lily, or Oregon Lily, is a beautiful Western wildflower bearing a chandelier of yellow flowers with brown freckles, and a sweet, edible bulb.
In late Spring, bunches of flowers sit atop a long stems throughout the open woodlands and stream-sides of the West. This native food was a highly prized staple food source of Native Americans, and remains to this day. This starchy bulb (slightly bigger than L. pardalinum) has a smooth creamy texture (after cooking) and mild, sweet taste - said to be reminiscent of sweet chestnut. However, Tiger Lily is also known (and actually enjoyed) for it’s bitter aftertaste.
Lily bulbs have been used medicinally/nutritionally in many cultures for thousands of years. They contain a variety of substances that can promote health and well-being. In addition to proteins and carbohydrates, lily bulbs have small amounts of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and vitamins B1, B2 and C.
The ornamental value of these brightly-colored, delicate wildflowers is undeniable to anyone who is lucky enough to find the Tiger Lily flowering in the wild. Mature bulbs send up bunches of flowers on a large stalk with beautiful whorls of lance-shaped green leaves. This small but powerful bulb can grow a flower stalk up to 5 feet tall! Flowers hang downward in a delicate fashion, petals peeling back slowly to reveal orange pollen-coated stamens visited by native pollinators. It can add height and color to herbaceous borders above smaller plants. This ephemeral Spring beauty is a sight to behold.
Environment and Culture
Native and common in a handful of Western states, Tiger Lily’s wild home is in damp open woods and meadows, from sea level to subalpine elevations. Indigenous people have traditionally harvested this bulb for thousands of years as a staple food. These lilies are slow-growing, long living, and very easy to care for. They die back every Summer, during which period they should be kept unwatered, if possible. They emerge from a bulb, or bulblets, the following Spring. However, not just humans like the taste of this wildflower bulb, so if you have gophers or mice, it is best to protect your bulb with hardware cloth or grow it in a container. In the early Spring, also watch for slugs on the emerging shoots!
Harvest, Care, and Preparation
Tiger Lily can be allowed to spread and multiply before harvesting. Seed can even be collected and reseeded next to the mother plant. When ready to harvest, in late Summer, use the dead flower stalk locate the edible bulbs underneath. Take some, leave some. If there is only one or, then consider removing an outside bulb scale and replanting it in the same hole at a shallower depth (to grow another for the following year).
(The bulb pushes itself deeper as it grows, and can be up to 6 inches down when fully mature. Wet the ground before digging to make the soil softer and easier to turn. Give ample space around the bulb to ensure that it or its bulblets are not severed.)
To prepare, slice the roots from the bulb (as you would a green onion) and boil the bulb for 15-20 minutes (until soft but still firm), Then, they can be eaten whole, mashed, or sliced and pan-fried. We recommend carefully chopping in half vertically to keep the bulb scales attached to the base, and pan-frying with oil/salt. Cooked bulbs have a smooth creamy texture and sweet and mild taste*. Enjoy this tasty native treat! *Tiger Lily has a smooth creamy texture and sweet and mild taste, initially, but is known for having a bitter aftertaste. Changing water once during boiling may help.
Native Range: WA, OR, CA, BC, ID, MO
USDA zones: 5-10
Ease of Care: Very Easy
Deer Resistance: Moderate
Light Requirements: Full Sun/Part Shade
Soil Type: Well drained, high organic matter, slightly acidic
Water Requirements: Moist-Wet, drying out in Summer