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Western lily
Lilium occidentale

General Information

Official Status: Endangered, the Western lily is federally listed under the Endangered Species Act, and listed as Endangered in California and Oregon.

Date Listed: September 16, 1994; Federal Register 94 FR 20162 (pdf, 2.2 MB)

Critical Habitat: Critical habitat has not been designated for this species.

Recovery Plan: The Recovery Plan (pdf, 4.0 MB) for the western lily was approved in March 1998.

5-Year Status Review: A 5-Year Status Review has been completed for the western lily.

Western lily, Photo Credit: Dave Imper, USFWS

Western lily

Photo Credit: Dave Imper, USFWS

Identifying Characteristics:

The western lily is a perennial member of the lily family (Liliaceae), growing from a short unbranched, rhizomatous bulb, reaching a height of up to 5 feet.  Leaves grow along the unbranched stem singly or in whorls and are long and pointed, roughly 0.5 inch wide by 4 inches long.  The nodding flowers are red, sometimes deep orange, with yellow to green centers in the shape of a star, and are spotted with purple.  The six petals (called tepals) are 1 to 1.5 inches long and curve strongly backwards.  This species can be distinguished from similar native lilies by the combination of pendent red flowers with yellow to green centers in the shape of a star, highly reflexed petals, non-spreading stamens closely surrounding the pistil, and an unbranched rhizomatous bulb.  Lilium columbianum is yellow to orange and grows from a typical ovoid bulb; L. pardilinum ssp. vollmeri, L. p. ssp. pardilinum, and L. maritimum can have red tepals, but none have the distinctive characters of stamens that stay close to the pistil and a green central star (which may change to yellow with age).

Current Geographic Range:

Carl Purdy first collected and described the western lily from unspecified locations in the headlands around Humboldt Bay, California.  The western lily is currently known from within 4 miles of the coast, extending approximately 220 miles from near Hauser, Coos County, Oregon to Loleta, Humboldt County, California.  This range roughly includes the southern third of the Oregon coast and the northern 100 miles of the California coast.  The plant is currently known from less than 30, often small, isolated populations.  The species’ epithet “occidentale” refers to its extreme westerly distribution along the coast of North America.  The western lily has likely not been widespread in recent times, although records from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s indicate that it was somewhat more common than it is today.  After the ice age, rising sea levels flooded marine benches where bogs and coastal scrub would have been more extensive than today.  That may account for the current, very narrow and patchy distribution along the west coast.

Life History:

The life history of the western lily has been studied much more extensively than most other endangered species.  Like other lilies, western lily has hermaphroditic flowers (producing both pollen and seeds), and reproduces primarily by seed.  Asexual reproduction is possible from detached bulb scales growing into new plants.  Seed germination is referred to as hypogeal (the cotyledon or seed leafstays beneath the surface ofthe ground).  A bulb scale is formed in the fall, with the first true leaf emerging the following spring.  In cultivation at least, plants may take 4-5 years to flower for the first time (Schultz 1989), and may live for 25 years or more (Kline 1984). Young flowering plants generally produce a single flower in each of the first few years after they begin to flower, and later produce progressively more flowers if the habitat is favorable.  Populations of non-flowering individuals may persist for many years under closed-forest canopies.  In nature, shoots generally emerge between March and April.  Usually in June or July, the green buds turn red for 3-5 days, open over a period of 1-2 days, and the nodding flowers last for 7-10 days.  After the floral parts have fallen, the flower stalks become erect and the fruit capsules enlarge to maturity over a period of 40-50 days.

Seeds are primarily dispersed by wind and gravity, mostly within a 13-foot radius of the parent plant.  Each fall, the above-ground portion of the plants die back and individuals overwinter underground as rhizomes/bulbs.  Hummingbirds are the primary pollinator of western lily, but some bees and other insects may also occasionally transfer pollen.  The western lily may be relatively unique in the genus in being able to self-pollinate. 

Long-term monitoring data are available for several populations at the northern and southern extremes of the species’ range.  At the southern end of the range, sites on Table Bluff have been monitored since the mid-1980’s, while the nature Conservancy’s Bastendorff Bog has been monitored for about as long. 
General Habitat Characteristics:

The western lily grows at the edges of sphagnum bogs and in forest or thicket openings along the margins of ephemeral ponds and small channels.  It also grows in coastal prairie and scrub near the ocean where fog is common.  Associated species often include: Sitka spruce, beach pine, Port Orford-cedar, crabapple, willow, wax myrtle, western rhododendron, evergreen huckleberry, salal, Labrador tea, Douglas’ spiraea, blackberry, Pacific reedgrass, blackberry, sedge, gentian, sphagnum moss, and in some cases, the Darlingtonia pitcher-plant.

Population and Habitat Status:

Of the 25 populations known to exist in 1987, 14  contained less than 50 plants, another 10 contained up to 600 plants, and one numbered nearly 1,000 plants.  Often, the majority of plants do not flower, a result of growth stress or browsing by wildlife.  Since then, several populations have been eliminated, while several new populations were discovered.  About half the current populations are located on private land, the remainder scattered on county and state lands in both Oregon and California.  The largest population, south of Crescent City, California, currently number over one thousand flowering plants.


The primary long-term natural threat to western lily is competitive exclusion by shrubs and trees as a result of succession in bogs and coastal prairie/scrub.  Human activities such as clearing and draining of wetlands, development of cranberry agriculture, urban development pressure, and alteration of natural hydrological processes are also major factors.  Two of the most significant populations near Brookings, Oregon, were partially or totally destroyed by unpermitted development-related wetland fill activity in 1991.  Another large population was recently eliminated near Bandon by unauthorized cranberry development.  The western lily is also a very showy plant with great horticultural appeal.  Bulb collection by lily growers, breeders, or other enthusiasts has negatively impacted several populations over the years, and sporadic collection continues to be a problem.

Grazing by vertebrates (elk, deer, voles, and domestic cattle) and invertebrates (coleopteran and lepidopteron larvae) negatively impacts western lily populations, but at the same time, controlled grazing is one of the few tools available to maintain habitat in a suitable condition for the lily. 

Overall, the species is considered to be declining.  Several large populations are currently threatened by proposed development, and plants are continuing to be lost to illegal filling or draining of wetlands, particularly in Oregon.  Cranberry development continues to eliminate large amounts of suitable, potentially occupied habitat along the coast between Coos Bay and Port Orford, Oregon.  Residential and commercial growth near Crescent City, California, and Brookings and Bandon, Oregon also threaten suitable habitat and populations.  Virtually all populations face the ongoing threat of habitat loss from encroachment by shrubs and trees, as a result of natural succession in absence of suitable disturbance.  We are in effect, in a race to design and implement proper disturbance regimes across the range, that are both effective and self-sustaining. 
Conservation Needs:

The recovery of this species will depend heavily upon establishment of populations within protected, and managed areas.  The recovery plan calls for 20 viable populations, each containing at least 1,000 flowering plants and a population structure indicating stable or increasing plant numbers, protected and managed to ensure their continued existence.  As a result, the primary landowners/managers, which include the California Department of Fish and Game and Del Norte County in California, Departments of Parks and Recreation, and Transportation in Oregon, as well as the Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Land Management, and many private landowners, must cooperate in the future to ensure permanent protection and management of western lily habitat.

Current techniques employed to maintain suitable habitat include cattle and goat grazing, and manual clearing (e.g., volunteers; routine powerline clearing; Youth Conservation Corps, California Conservation Corps). Oregon.  The USFWS recently funded a study through its Coastal Program in Oregon to determine the best method for habitat manipulation within three Oregon State Parks, to include goats, burning and manual control.   The Service is also pursuing conservation easements or other landowner agreements to conserve critical populations and habitat.  

We are also currently studying the genetics of the lily and developing a genetics management plan to determine appropriate actions with regard to population enhancement and population introduction/reintroduction projects in the future.  
Related Documents:
No other documents other than those listed in the general information section above.
Other Informational Weblinks:

Last updated: April 11, 2011

Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office, 1655 Heindon Road, Arcata, California 95521, USA
Tel: (707) 822.7201 Fax: (707) 822.8411