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Western lily

Scientific name: Lilium occidentale

Status: Endangered

Listing Activity: Western lily was federally listed as endangered without critical habitat in 1994 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1994). A recovery plan was published in 1998 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1998). A five-year status review, completed in 2019, resulted in no change in status.

Potential Range Map 

  • Historic and Current Range

    Western lily occurs in a narrow band of habitat along the Pacific Coast between the ocean and four miles inland at elevations ranging from just above sea level to about 120 m (400 ft). It ranges from Coos County, Oregon to about 220 miles south into Humboldt County, California.  Of the 25 populations known to exist in 1987, 14 contained less than 50 plants, another 10 contained up to 600 plants, and 1 numbered nearly 1,000 plants.  Since then, several populations were lost to habitat modifications and several new populations were discovered.  Less than half the current populations are located on private land, with the remainder scattered on county, state, and federal lands in Oregon and California. 

    Description and Life History

    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 (1.5 meters).  Leaves grow along the unbranched stem singly or in whorls and are long and pointed, roughly 0.5 inch (1.27 centimeters) wide by 4 inches (10.16 centimeters) long.  The nodding flowers are red to deep orange in color and their six petals (called tepals) are 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 3.8 centimeters) 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 (spotted with purple) 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. vollmeriL. 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 yellow with age).


    Western lily occurs in freshwater fens, bogs, and coastal prairie and scrub. The species also occurs in poorly drained forests, but plants in this habitat often do not produce flowers due to lack of sunlight. Western lily occurs in two distinct, poorly drained soil types, deep organic peat soils and mineral-based soils which tend to be acidic and exhibit a perched water table due to either iron or clay pans that hold water seasonally. These soils afford western lily the moisture it needs during the early part of the growing season. Western lily habitat is often but not always associated with jurisdictional wetlands and is never associated with flowing water. Common associates include the shrubs salal (Gaultheria shallon), Western wax myrtle (Myrica californica), Western spirea (Spirea douglasii), huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.), blackberry (Rubus spp.), black twin-berry (Lonicera involucrate), and glandular Labrador tea (Ledum glandulosum).  Common tree associates include shore pine (Pinus contorta ssp.), Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), red alder (Alnus rubra), Port-Orford cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsonia) and willow (Salix spp.).  Common herbaceous associates include Pacific reed-grass (Calamagrostis nutkaensis), slough sedge (Carex obnupta), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), staff gentian (Gentiana sceptrum), bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), peat moss (Sphagnumspp.) and Western tofieldia (Tofieldia glutinosa).

    Reasons for Decline

    The primary long-term threat to western lily is the conversion of fens and coastal prairie to forest and shrublands due to succession. Historically, western lily habitat was kept relatively open by burning, a disturbance that rarely occurs today. In addition, human activities which alter natural hydrological processes play a major role in western lily population decline and loss. These include clearing and draining of wetlands, development of cranberry and other agricultural activities in lily habitat, and development of infrastructure such as roads and buildings. Because the western lily is a beautiful plant, bulb collection also played a role in its decline, and some collection probably continues to occur today. Overgrazing by vertebrates (elk, deer, voles, and domestic cattle) and invertebrates (coleopteran and lepidopteron larvae) can also negatively impact western lily populations.

    Conservation Measures

    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 spread across the species’ range. Each of these populations must contain at least 1,000 flowering plants and have a population structure that indicates stable or increasing plant numbers. Importantly, these populations must be protected and managed to ensure their continued existence.  Thus recovery of western lily depends upon a network of landowners committed to ensuring the western lily’s persistence in perpetuity. Currently, in addition to private landowners, western lily occurs on lands managed or owned by the California Department of Fish and Game, Del Norte County, California, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon Department of State Lands, Bonneville Power Administration and the Bureau of Land Management.

    Techniques currently being used to maintain suitable habitat include manual and mechanical clearing of shrubs and trees to maintain open habitats. Augmentation of western lily populations via bulb outplanting has also occurred in recent years. Conservation easements and other landowner agreements are tools that can be employed to protect critical populations and habitat.

    References and Links

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1994. Determination of Endangered Status for Lilium Occidentale (Western Lily). Federal Register 59:42171-42176.

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1998. Recovery Plan for the Endangered Western lily (Lilium occidentale). Portland, Oregon. 82 pp.

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office.  September 21, 2017.  Western Lily Species Profile. Arcata. 

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office.  July 2019.  Lilium occidentale (Western lily) 5-Year Review: Summary and Evaluation.


    Last updated: December 2019

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