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Northland Nature: Orange-red wood lilies blossoming now

The flowers of midsummer stand tall now. A walk or drive down any country road reveals the blossoms of pink milkweed, white cow parsnip, purple fireweed, and yellow evening primrose. Plants have had a long time to grow and now are three or more f...

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The flowers of midsummer stand tall now. A walk or drive down any country road reveals the blossoms of pink milkweed, white cow parsnip, purple fireweed, and yellow evening primrose. Plants have had a long time to grow and now are three or more feet high along these waysides.

July is also the time of day lilies. It seems like nearly every neighborhood in the Northland holds a thriving patch of these orange flowers. As the name says, they open their long flowers for just one day and by dusk they have faded. Usually, within two days, the entire flower with all of its parts has fallen off. Obviously, no seeds are produced from such a situation, but with prolific spreading roots, the day lilies do very well without seeds.

A wild cousin of the day lily now blossoms during these hot days of July as well. The wood lily opens its red-orange flowers at this time, too. Not nearly as widespread as the domestic day lilies, these wild ones proclaim such a beauty that passersby are likely to stop or slow down for a closer look. Wood lilies may grow at the edge of woods, but are just as likely seen in the open at the margins of fields.

Not everyone knows this plant as wood lily, it is also called Michigan lily, Turk's cap lily, or tiger lily. Many flowers such as water-lilies are called lilies, but are not closely related to the true lilies. The wood lilies, however, are true lilies. The three colorful petals separated by three equally as colorful sepals tell us of the plant's true identity. All six of these structures are a brilliant red-orange. When fully open, they may fold completely back to the base. Such a pattern leads to the Turk's cap name.

Unlike the abundant day lilies, these flowers do stay open for several days or weeks. This provides ample time and attention to be pollinated and later to form seeds. Insects of many kinds as well as the active hummingbirds can locate the flowers and stop by for a nectar meal. The perennial wood lilies are well equipped for pollination with huge stamen and pistils that extend far beyond the petals. Apparently, wind can pollinate these summer flowers if insects don't manage the task.

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Plants stand three to five feet tall and though most of us are likely to notice the orange flowers spotted with black dots that reach out from the apex, the leaves are impressive as well. The green stems hold four to six leaves that grow out from the same site on the stalk.

Like most of the midsummer flowers, they are nothing but a memory by September. As we pass by at that time, we may see only plants with long seed pods along the roadsides that tell of their presence. But now in mid-summer, we can delight in such colorful flowers.

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