With so many variations and cultivars of lilies in the world, the lily plant can sometimes be difficult to identify, especially for the novice gardener. From colorful and decorative favorites such as the Easter Lily and the Tiger Lily to common vegetable species such garlic and chive, the appearance of a lily can take many forms. While the bulb is often the most distinguishing characteristic, there are other features that can help even the most novice plant lover distinguish a true member of the family Liliaceae.
First, look for parallel veins in the leaves. This is a sure indicator of a lily, as most other plants have veins that branch out and away from one another, rather than run in a parallel direction. Next, count the petals. A lily will have three inner petals and three outer petals (called sepals), for a total of six. These petals and sepals are usually identical in size and color.
Turning to the stamens, members of the Lily family should have six stamens, although they may not be identical in appearance. The tip of the pistil, called the stigma, should be three-parted. It is important to note that the stamens are often the best way to distinguish a lily plant from an iris plant, which although similar in appearance, has only three stamens.
If the plant’s bulb is accessible, it is important to examine it, as well. Lily bulbs are generally composed of individual sections called scales. If the scales lack a protective covering and can easily be peeled away from the bulb, the plant is likely to be a member of the lily family. Finally, if the lily is flowering, the scent may be a helpful indicator. Lilies are generally known to have a strong, sweet scent, which is very different from similar plants, including the iris.