Lily Family Liliaceae

Lilies emerge from rhizomes, bulbs, or corms. The leaves are oblong to linear in shape with parallel veins. The flower parts are in threes or multiples of three. Often the petals and sepals look alike and are known as "tepals." The flowers are often showy, developing fruit as a ca psule or berry.

Northern Asphodel

Tofieldia coccinea Richards

Arising from a rootstock of numerous pale, wiry roots, the flowering stems are smooth and upright, usually less than 4" tall. The stems bear one or more narrow leaves, at least one of them being fairly well developed. The basal leaves, arranged in a fan-shaped tuft, are stiff, narrow and pointed, usually less than 2" long. The tiny flowers are held in a single, short dense cluster at the top of the stem. The flowers are whitish, tinged with reddish purple. The fruit is a small, dry capsule.

The northern asphodel bears such small and short-stemmed flowers that it is often the stiff, fan-shaped tuft of leaves that catches your eye. It usually grows in dry tundra where the vegetation is low, among the lichens and

Northern Asphodel—continued pussy toes (Antennaria spp.) of rocky outcroppings, but occasionally can be found in damp heath as well.

A similar but less commonly seen species here is the Scotch or false asphodel, Tofieldia pusilla (Michx.) Pers. Its flowers are yellowish white to greenish, and it usually bears a smaller, much less well-developed stem leaf than does T. coccinea.


Both species are northern circumpolar and widespread in Alaska.

Tofieldia pusilla

Kamchatka Lily, Rice Root, Chocolate Lily, Stinky Flower, Sarana Lily Fritillaria camschatcensis (L.) Ker Gawl.

(E) saranax, from the Russian sarana (E, A) alugax: the root bulb, alugam kangaa: the above-ground part (A) daaxsxingis: the ricelike grains around the root

Stems are single, smooth, 12" to 28" tall. Leaves are lanceolate, blunt, held in widely spaced whorls along the stem. Bunched at the top are one to several large, nodding, bell-shaped flowers with a rather unpleasant scent. The petals are dark purple brown, sometimes streaked with green. After flowering, the plants form smooth, inch-long capsules, which are obtusely angled into three sections. Below the ground at the base of the stem is a round, white root bulb covered with small bulblets, resembling a cluster of rice.

Kamchatka lilies bloom in the meadows and hillsides in early to mid summer. The edible root bulbs are best gathered in early fall and are good boiled, tasting much like potatoes. The sometimes bitter taste of the roots can be lessened by soaking them in fresh water. The traditional method of dipping or storing them in seal oil is also said to sweeten them (M. Dirks, pers. com.). These roots were widely used as food in the past. They were boiled, roasted, or fried and were good mixed with berries. They could also be dried and later ground into a flour (Hudson 1992).


Widespread from eastern Asia, along the southern Alaska coast and into the Pacific Northwest.

Alp Lily

Llyodia serotina (L.) Rchb.

The small bulb and base of stem are sheathed in grass-like fibers. The flowering stems are 2" to 6" tall. The basal leaves are linear, long, and curving, and often longer than the flowering stem. Stem leaves are alternate, becoming smaller up the stem The flower is usually solitary and W in diameter. The six rounded tepals are creamy white faintly tinged with yellow, and have purplish brown streaks or veins, the midvein being especially prominent. The fruit is a small three-sided capsule.

The alp lily is a delicate little bloom of the alpine tundra, uncommon on Unalaska Island. It is found sparsely scattered among the heath-covered rocky outcroppings at higher elevations.


Northern circumpolar and widespread in Alaska.

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