It is sometimes difficult to distinguish the flower of the Tiger Lily (Lilium lancifolium) from the Turk’s Cap Lily that is native to eastern and central regions of North America (Lilium superbum) as the shape and color can often be similar. However, the easiest way to differentiate the two is to look at the center of the flower. The Turk’s Cap has a characteristic pale green coloring at the base of each flower petal that forms a star at the center, where the petals meet. The flower petals of the Turk's Cap also often have a tighter curl than those of the Tiger Lily.
The Turk's Cap Lily is said to have been named after the look and shape of the Turkish turban worn by Mehmed I, an early ruler of the Ottoman Empire from 1413-1421. I suppose if you use your imagination you can see some representation of a middle-eastern turban there. However, I think the Turk's Cap Squash seems more aptly named and if it would have been up to me (which it wasn't), I would have picked another Turkish fashion accessory, worn at the opposite end of the body, and named the plant "Turk's Slipper." I mean, take a look at the image of the Persian slipper below. Just sayin'. Furthermore, if a Turkish slipper is good enough for Sherlock Holmes to store his tobacco in, then it's good enough for a plant to be named after. But, I'm really digressing here. Enough about consulting detectives and Turkish fashion apparel.
There are several different types of Turk’s Cap lilies. Two species are native to North America with Lilium superbum being found in the Eastern United States. You’ll often find it growing in moist woodland edges and meadows. It is listed as endangered here in New Hampshire. This tall native American plant (it grows 5-8 feet) caused a sensation in Europe when early plant hunter, John Bartram first shipped one back to England in 1738.
About a century later, Lilium lancifolium (the Tiger Lily, shown in the photo at the top of the page) first reached the shores of the United States when it was imported from Asia. It was the first Asian lily to be imported into this country and New Hampshire native, Marshall Pinckney Wilder is often credited with its introduction. We will leave the merits of that decision to import the plant, and its resultant impact on native flora for another discussion. However, in his defense, we now know a lot more about those ecological consequences than Wilder did in his time.
Wilder was born in Rindge, New Hampshire in 1798 and later settled in the Boston area where he maintained a large orchard in Dorchester that contained over 2,500 pear trees representing 800 varieties. He devoted his life to horticulture and plant hybridization and was the first to introduce many fruits and flowers to America. It is said that he always carried a camel-hair brush in his breast pocket because he never knew when he might come across a plant from which he wanted to take some pollen. He was a member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for over fifty years, also serving as its president, and was the founder of The American Pomological Society.
As a bit of an aside, the image of Marshall Pinckney Wilder shown here was taken from an early book on horticulture. Published in 1915 and edited by Liberty Hyde Bailey, it has to have one of the longest book titles I’ve ever encountered: The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture: A Discussion for the Amateur, and the Professional and Commercial Grower, of the Kinds, Characteristics and Methods of Cultivation of the Species of Plants Grown in the Regions of the United States and Canada for Ornament, for Fancy, for Fruit and for Vegetables; with Keys to the Natural Families and Genera, Descriptions of the Horticultural Capabilities of the States and Provinces and Dependent Islands, and Sketches of Eminent Horticulturists, Volume 3. Whew! Can you imagine proposing that title to an editor today? In this age of information overload and short attention spans, the title itself is longer than most of today's magazine articles!