Seasonal color – July – Humboldt’s Lily

Update in July 2011:  Here is a photo of the Humboldt lily in my garden, taken on the 4th of July.  My niece called it the hot air balloon plant!

Lilium humboldtii, Humboldt's Lily

Now back to the original post:

For those of you who have been following my blog posts, I skipped April, May and June on my “seasonal color” theme.  Never fear – those are our best months for color, and you probably have flowers galore in your native garden without even trying. Perhaps I was intimidated by the sheer volume of choices.  We can catch up next year.

This month, our gardens in Southern California are starting to dry out and rest for summer dormancy, after a phenomenal spring season supported by exceptional rainfall.  Evergreen shrubs like Coffeeberry and Manzanita now prepare to earn their keep as the staples that keep our front yards looking fresh after the flush of new spring growth is done.

Just as the spring flowers are declining, there is a surprise in the back of my garden.  I almost forgot about that Humboldt Lily bulb!  It has been quietly thriving just beneath a Mountain Mahogany tree, the roots shaded, and the flower stalk has grown up without attracting attention.  But the bright orange flowers are blaring out from the corner of my garden now. This photo of the same species was taken at Tree of Life Nursery in 2009:

Lilium humboldtii, Humboldt's LilyHumboldt Lily (Lilium humboldtii) is native to many parts of the state, and in Southern California it thrives in shady or partly shady woodland situations, with very good drainage.  In the summer, once per month waterings can be tolerated but aren’t necessary.  The flower stalk rises just about to eye level, and the clusters of flowers may be supported by a nearby shrub or tree branch, or stand on its own. Bulbs or plants can be difficult to obtain, so keep an eye out for one at your local native plant nursery or chapter plant sale, and don’t pass it up if you have the right garden conditions.

Do you have a native Lily bulb growing in your garden?  I’d love to hear about it.


  1. I don’t, but a neighbor’s house up here in Lake Arrowhead (where NO ONE ever comes to stay) has a forest of them. In 2009, when I took photos, it was amazing. This year there were fewer. I’m afraid some cleaning crew may have pulled out the stalks not knowing – or caring – what they were. Is there a way to gather seeds next year to cultivate? I’d love to have some. (And no one would notice me taking a flower.)

  2. Hopefully the bulbs underground were not disturbed, and they survived to bloom another day. Some years the bloom will be more profuse than others due to weather, especially timing and amount of rainfall.

    You can grow it from seed. You don’t want to disturb the flowers, but wait for it to set seed on the flower stalks, and then when they are dry and ready harvest a seed pod or two, making sure to leave many, many more there than you take (leave 20- take 1 might be a good guideline).

    I don’t know the protocol for germinating these seeds, unfortunately. I believe they will take several years before the plant gets to a sufficient size to put out a flower.

  3. Thanks. I’m here for the long haul. A few years will pass before we know it. I’ll be measured in my harvesting. (I sent a photo via email. Enjoy.)

  4. Hi Laura– I bought a packet of Lillium humboldtii seed at the Tilden Botanical Garden sale a couple of springs ago. They germinated easily and although some have since died, I still have a few in 3 inch pots. They come up each year but dont seem to grow. Any thought about how long I should wait before planting them out? And what time of year? Any help appreciated, I really look forward to those gorgeous blooms!

  5. My co-worker Gene and I think it should take about 3 years to get this plant from seedling to bloom. You probably need to pot them up into bigger pots by now.

    If it was my yard, I would put them in the ground after about a year and mark the location clearly so that I don’t dig there, because they do go totally dormant. In other yards you might want to leave them in a large pot just to keep track of them.

    I have also lost them due to the location in the garden being too wet and they rotted in the summer.

    Good luck, Carolyn!

  6. We have several plants growing wild on the lower part of our property here in Colfax, CA. I’ve been keeping my eye on them for the last 3 years and have noticed that the deer eat the buds before they bloom. This spring, I started spraying them with deer repellant and have been rewarded with 8 blooms on 2 plants. But then I got to thinking that maybe my actions are also keeping the polinators from doing their job. Any thoughts?

    1. Hi Chris:
      I’ve asked around, and my experts are telling me that the deer repellent will have no impact on the pollinators. You could try hand-pollinating the lilies just in case your pollinators don’t do their job. Congrats on getting the flowers – aren’t they lovely? What would you use the seed for? If you don’t need seed, you could just let the flowers do their thing.

      1. Thanks for your reply Laura. I would have tried hand pollination if I knew what I was doing, but I don’t, so I didn’t. I am not collecting the seed, I’m just trying to let the size of the population increase itself because, as you suggested, they are spectacular. At least I got a few good photos for my efforts.

      2. I’ve hand-pollinated mine and it seems to help the seed set. I’ve just blundered around and gotten pollen on my fingers, then made sure it got onto the long plant part sticking out (style) with the sticky end (stigma). My boss always jokes that makeup brushes are good for this, Max Factor by preference.

  7. Coincidentally, I just planted three Humboldt Lillies last weekend – and the first bloom opened today. As far as the repellant, a search for forums about its specific “side effects” might give you an answer on how it affects pollinators. One obvious fact is, without blooms, the pollinators have nothing to do. So it seems that without spraying, only the deer benefit. This way, maybe both you and the birds and bees have something to get excited about.

    1. Great, those are some good plants that flowered right away. Good luck with your plants. Where did you get them?

      1. I got them from Hunter’s – a nursery up in Big Bear (I’m at 5,200 feet in Lake Arrowhead). Apparently Hunter’s got them from Las Pilitas. I also planted two Parry’s Lilies in the same group. The test will be if any of them return next spring – after the winter’s snow. The encyclopedia Hunter’s owner referred to said the Humboldt is “in decline.” So, I’m extra hopeful that I’ll help the specie!

  8. My niece called this lily the “hot air balloon plant” when she saw it this year. I loved that description! I have posted another picture up at the top of the original post, since I don’t know how to do it in comments.

  9. I have been growing several lily species and natives for several years. Pard. , columbianum, Bellingham (a pink one and a red one). Lake Tulare, etc,.
    I also have but now blooming Kelloggii, Humboldtii, many different crosses at growing stages.

    I live in Arcata

  10. Good to see this again. A nice annual reminder. My three Humboldts are all growing still, though the Parryiis were clearly too tempting for varmints. They are gone. Good luck to all the hot-air balloon-raisers! (Or Japanese lantern-lighters, as I think of them.)

  11. It takes a long time to grow Humboldt lily properly but is rewarding.
    1) Collect a few seeds from a natural area nearby your home (go hiking!). 10 seeds is a good start. Any native species that already grow in your area should never be purchased from a nursery. Pollinators will bring the pollen from your garden plants and introduce unwanted genes to the local populations. This can impact native populations and interfere with the process of that create unique local lineages. If you do not want to go to this trouble, please only use non-native landscape plants in your garden.
    2) Plant seeds in the Fall on a trail or container that is at least 6″ deep. Cover seeds 1/4 with more soil. Any good potting soil will work. Keep it lightly moist and in partial shade.
    3) Some of the seeds will start germinating in 90 days. Some of them will stay dormant and will germinate next year. This is an adaptation of many species to avoid “putting all your eggs in one basket” in the case the climate isn’t favorable to seedling survival that year. So, save the pots, but don’t water the soil in the summer and early fall.
    4) The seedling will be a single and 2 small leaves about 1″ long. They will stay that way until the leave dried out in the summer. During this time, the leave was providing energy to create a bulb, towards the bottom of the pot.
    5) Let the 1-year bulbs rest in pots in the summer and fall and start watering in later fall when rains would normally come. You can plant your bulbs in the garden in the 1st or second year. To plant in the garden, place the bulb at the same orientation and at the same depth that it was in the pot. Use 1/2 organic material and add some 1″ compost each year, during fall.
    6) In the second year, more leaves will be produced in the winter and spring. The plants are still growing slowly above ground because they are putting energy into making a bigger bulb. The bulb is the storage of water and food for the plant. A bigger bulb means a better chance to survive low rainfall years.
    7) In the third year your plant maybe a foot or 2 and they may flower if they have enough food storage.
    7) A fully mature plant may be 4-5 years. It may have several flower stocks and a large bulb of 2′-3″ wide.
    Tips: in dry winters and spring, you can provide additional water.

  12. Live in Grass Valley area. Just discovered about 5 Humboldt lily plants growing on our property. I’m so excited! One plant has its second “pagoda layer” of leaves; the others have just a single layer. They are on a pretty significant slope (read: good drainage) at the edge of a black oak woodland, so the plants have their feet in leaf duff but their heads nicely exposed to sunlight. No wonder they chose that spot.

    Now to wait until the plants are mature enough to flower… but it’s worth it! Meanwhile, I’ll get to see how much they grow every year.

  13. I received a bulb in a gallon size pot from Phyllis who posted above in 2014. The bulb was finally
    moved to a large plastic tub and surprised me with blooms.. right now. Super long lasting and one of the most beautiful lilies I have frown. Took me four years. So glad I did not give up.

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