Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Liliaceae is a large family, with hundreds of exotic species in cultivation. They include hyacinths, tulips, onions, as well as the true lilies. This family is well represented in the Bay Area natives, many of which have become native garden favorites.

All species are prerennial, but most are herbaceous (not having a woody stem) and die back, after flowering or fruiting, to underground bulbs, corms, or rhizomes. New plants form from bulb division or sprout from seeds, but usually do not begin flowering until about the fourth year, after the bulb has developed sufficiently.

The flowers have 3 petals and 3 sepals, often very similar (in which they are referred to as perianth segments: you needed to know that, I'm sure.) There are typically 6 stamens. The fruit is either dry and cracking at maturity or fleshy in certain species - it is divided into 3 segments. There are few exceptions to the above general description.

 Many native members of Liliaceae can be grown in the garden, keeping in mind their native situations: Allium, Brodiaea, Camassia, Lilium and Calochortus species prefer to grow in open, sunny areas; Trillium, Erythronium, Smilacine, and Maianthemum prefer shaded habitats, and require more moisture over a longer growing period. On Montara Mountain, Liliaceae representatives include:

Allium dichlamydeum
Coast Onion

Allium triquetrum
Welsh Onion

Calochortus albus
White Globe Lily

Chlorogalum pomeridianum
Soap Plant

Dichelostemma capitatum
Blue Dicks

Dichelostemma congestum
Forked-Toothed Ookaw

Fritillaria affinis
Mission Bells
(Checker Lily)

Scoliopus bigelovii
Fetid Adder's Tongue

Smilacine racemosa
var amplexicaulis
Fat Solomon's Seal

Smilacine stellata
var sessilifolia
Slim Solomon's Seal

Trillium albidum
Sweet Trillium

Trillium chloropetalum
Giant Trillium

Trillium ovatum
Coast Trillium

Triteleia laxa
Ithuriel's Spear

Zigadenus fremontii
Star Lily



Smilacine stellata
var. sessilifolia:
Slim Solomon's Seal
(Starry Solomon's Seal)

Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Flowers: White, six petals, star-shaped on single pedicels at top of stem.

Blooms: February - April.

Leaves: Narrow ("slim"), parallel veined, alternate and semi-clasping along stem, 3 -6" long.

Fruit/Seeds: Red-purple berries.

Location: Damp slopes along trails.

Status: Native - Common.

Smilacine stellata var sessilifolia
400x600 JPEG - 44K

Further description & Comment: 1 - 3 feet tall, single stems that grow each year from a ground-level network of creeping rhizomes and succulent rootlets.

The main difference between Smilacine racemosa (Fat/False Solomon's Seal) and Smilacine stellata (Slim/Starry Solomon's Seal) is apparent (I hope) in the pictures: one's fat and the other's slim. There are, of course, substantial differences in the leaves, flowers, and general plant structures of the two species, but in the field it is the chunkiness and slimness that immediately distinguishes the two.

Common Name Note: The "real" Solomon's Seal is an flower in the Lily Family that grows in the Eastern United States and is of the Polygonatum. genus. Hence the name "False" Solomon's Seal for S. racemosa., probably bestowed by some expatriated New England botanist. This convention of "False this-or-that" appears to be common in Liliaceae (False Lily-of-the-Valley, etc.)

The name "Solomon's Seal" refers to a mystic icon, two interlocked triangles in the shape of a six pointed star (often with one triangle white, the other black) representing the union of soul and body. As an amulet, it is said to ward off fever and other diseases. Supposedly, the upright branch shoot leave this mark on the underground rootstock, which is dug up for medicinal uses (see below). Or it could be because of the shape of their flowers (6 - pointed stars) or because of their medicinal qualities in general, or both, but I'm not sure.

The roots of both species, but primarily Smilacine racemosa, are used in herbal medicines as anti-imflammatories and astringents. The fresh chopped root, cooked with honey, makes an excellent cough syrup. Fresh Smilacine root, ground up with a rock, can be an effective and soothing field poultice for stings, bites, burns, and small localized Poison Oak or Stinging Nettle - Stinging Phacelia rashes.

Can't work any worse than Mugwort.



Trillium albidum:
Sweet Trillium

Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Flowers: White, single flower; 3 upright petals directly above the plant's major leaves on stems up to 10 inches tall. Flower may turn pinkish with age. Interior parts of flower yellow-green, maybe tinged with purple as plant ages.

Blooms: February - March.

Leaves: Large green leaves, often with purple blotches, large and triangular; three per plant, radiating off stout stem above the ground.

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: Shady, Moist trails. Often growing in bottom story of bushy areas. Plaskon Nature Trail (San Pedro Valley County Park), Saddle Pass area on San Pedro Road (McNee Ranch State Park).

Status: Native - Common, but not easy to find.

Trillium albidum
640x480 JPEG - 24K

Sitting serenely in the dappled light under a Coffee Berry Bush near the Saddle Pass Area.

Further description & Comment: Up to 1 ft tall.

Trillium are best found looking under other, taller plants, especially in the "multi-storied" communities at higher elevations. Along San Pedro Road, in the area of the Saddle Pass, they can be found growing right along side the trail. The picture to the left shows two white flowers growing under Coffee Berry.

Sweet Trillium and Giant Trillium (Trillium chloropetalum) may be distinguished from the Coast Trillium (Trillium ovatum) by the flowers that grow directly above the leaves - Coast Trillium have their flowers elevated above the leaves 2 to 3 inches. Also, the Coast Trillium always has solid green leaves, while the other may have purple blotches.

The image to the right shows a good detail of the flower structure - 600x450 JPEG - 24K



Trillium chloropetalum:
Giant Trillium

Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Flowers: Dark red to greenish-white, three erect petals one to two inches long; single flower directly above leaves. Interior parts of flower mainly purple.

Blooms: February - March.

Leaves: Dark green with purple blotches, large and triangular; three per plant.

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: Shady, moist trails, woods and thickets.

Status: Native - Common.

Further description & Comment: 1 ft tall. Distinguished from Trillium albidum (Sweet Trillium) by the purple interior flower parts, darker flower and slightly larger size.

Trillium chloropetalum
640x480 JPEG - 52K

Photo by Bill and Barbara VanderWerf.


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