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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 2009, resulted in no change in status.

Potential Range Map 

  • Historic and Current Range

    This species has been reported from sites in a narrow band along the Pacific Coast no more than four miles inland from Coos County, Oregon about 200 miles south to 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 have been eliminated, while several new populations were discovered.  About half the current populations are located on private land, with the remainder scattered on county, state and federal lands in Oregon and California.  The largest population, south of Crescent City, California, currently numbers over 1,000 flowering plants.

    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 typically occurs within, or at the edges of fens and in poorly drained forest or thicket openings.  It also grows in coastal prairie/scrub near the ocean.  Fens are composed of highly organic soils with a fluctuating water table, and often situated above Blacklock or other soils that serve to perch a seasonal water table.  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 natural threat to western lily is competitive exclusion by shrubs and trees as a result of succession in fens and coastal prairie/scrub.  Human activities which alter natural hydrological processes including clearing and draining of wetlands, development of cranberry agriculture, and urbanization are also major factors.  The western lily is a 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.

    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, 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, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Oregon Department of Transportation, Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Land Management, and many private landowners, must cooperate to ensure permanent protection and management of western lily habitat.

    Current techniques used to maintain suitable habitat include cattle and goat grazing, manual clearing, and conservation easements or other landowner agreements to conserve critical populations and habitat.  A genetics management plan is being developed to determine appropriate actions with regard to population enhancement and population introduction/reintroduction projects in the future.

    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.  February 17, 2009.  Western Lily Species Profile. Arcata. 

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office.  January 2009.  Lilium occidentale (Western lily) 5-Year Review: Summary and Evaluation.


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