Where Have All the Lillies Gone? Long-Time Changin’ in the Liliaceous Families

By Marion Blois Lobstein, Botany Chair, Prince William Wildflower Society; Professor Emeritus-NVCC

The traditional Lily family or Liliaceae was first described by French botanist Michel Adanson in 1763, but was officially named by A.L. deJussieu in 1789. The genus Lilium, on which the family name is based, has a long history in ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures. There has been a great deal of disagreement in the last 200 years over which genera belong in the Liliaceae. This family has been a catch-all for many, rather different genera and even other families over the years. In the 1800s, botanists, such as the American Asa Gray (Gray’s Manual of Botany) and the British Bentham and Hooker, dealt with this these disparities by the use of “tribes”—many of which are now the families we see in the Flora of Virginia. In the chart below, which summarizes treatment of “Liliaceous” families in the Flora of Virginia, most of the “new” families (with only two exceptions—Takhtajan’s naming of Tofieldiaceae and Xerophyllaceae) have been described since the late 1700s into the mid-1800s. Botanists R. M. T. Dahlgren and H.T. Clifford, among others, began questioning the traditional Liliaceae makeup in the 1970s and 1980s. But DNA evidence was the final factor that resulted in the treatment reflected in the Flora of Virginia and other recent scientific publications. These “splits” also may change in the future as additional evidence emerges. For now, the chart may be of use in sorting out current changes and enjoying these special groups of plants. –Marion Lobstein

Families Common Names of Families &No. spp. Authorities &  Dates Proposed Changes and Notes
Liliaceae Lily (18) A.L. deJussieu 1789 Former genera in Liliaceae moved to the following families. See these families for specific genera moved: Agavaceae Asparagaceae Colchicaceae Heloniadaceae Hyacinthaceae Melanthiaceae Nartheciaceae Ruscaceae Smilacaceae Tofieldiaceae
Trilliaceae Xanthorrhoeaceae Xerophyllaceae 
Genera still included in Liliaceae
Clintonia(Clintonias),Erythronium (Trout Lilies), Lilium (Lilies),Mediola (Cucumber-roots), Prosartes (formerly Disporum)(Fairy-bells), Streptopus  (Twisted–stalks)
Agavaceae Agave (3) Endlicher 1841 Formerly in Liliaceae (Lily); includes generaCamassia (Wild Hyacinths/Camass Lilies), Manfreda(False-aloes), Yucca(Yuccas)
Amaryllidaceae Amaryllis (13) J. St. Hilaire 1805 Includes genera from Liliaceae (Lily), Allium(Onions), Leucojum(Snowflakes),Nothoscordum (False Garlics), Tristagma(formerly Ipheion)(Spring Star),Zephyranthes(Atamasco Lilies);Hypoxis (Yellow Stargrass) now in Hypoxidaceae
Asparagaceae Asparagus (1) A.L. deJussieu 1789 Formerly in Liliaceae (Lily); includes genusAsparagus (Asparagus)
Colchicaceae Meadow Saffron (4) Augustin      deCandole 1805 Formerly in Liliaceae (Lily); includes genusUvularia (Bellworts)
Heloniadaceae Swamp-pink (2) J. Agardh 1858 Formerly in Liliaceae (Lily); includes generaChamaelirium (Devil’s-bits), Helonias (Swamp Pink)
Hyacinthaceae Hyacinth (4) Batsch 1786 Formerly in Liliaceae (Lily); includes generaMuscari (Grape Hyacinths), Ornithogalum  (Stars-of-Bethlehem)
Melanthiaceae Bunchflower (10) Batsch 1802 Formerly in Liliaceae (Lily); includes generaAmianthium (Fly-poisons), Anticlea(Death Camases spp.), Stenanthium(Featherbells),Veratrum [(False Hellebores and Bunchflowers (formerlyMelanthium)],Zigadenus (Death Camases spp.)
Nartheciaceae Bog-asphodel (2) F.M. Fries 1846 Formerly in Liliaceae (Lily); includes genusAletris (Colicroots)
Ruscaceae Ruscus (8) M. Roemer 1840 Formerly in Liliaceae (Lily); includes generaConvallaria  (Lilies-of-the-Valley), Maianthemum [M. canadensis (Canada Mayflowers), M. racemosum (formerlySmilacina racemosa)(False Solomon’s Seals/Solomon’s-plumes), M. stellatum(formerly Smilacina stellata)(Starry False Solomon’s Seals/Starry Solomon’s-plumes)], Polygonatum(Solomon’s Seals)
Smilacaceae Greenbrier (10) Ventenat 1799 Formerly in Liliaceae (Lily); includes genusSmilax(Greenbriers/Catbriers)
Tofieldiaceae Tofieldia (2) Takhtajan 1994 Formerly in Liliaceae (Lily); includes genusTriantha (formerlyTofieldia) (False Asphodels)
Trilliaceae Trillium (10) Lindley 1846 Formerly in Liliaceae (Lily); includes genusTrillium (Trilliums)
Xanthorrhoeaceae Daylily (1) R. Brown 1810 Formerly in Liliaceae (Lily); includes genusHemerocallis (Daylilies)
Xerophyllaceae Beargrass (1) Takhtajan 1994 Formerly in Liliaceae (Lily); includes genusXerophyllum(Beargrass)