The delicate but very colorful Michigan lily (Lilium michiganense) appears each year just in time for the ruckus of the Fourth-of-July fireworks. You can find Michigan lilies in our woods, along the Calumet Trail, in the State Park, and along Beverly Drive, just as faithfully as the Fourth of July celebrations. You will not see it in the dryer roadsides like Lake Front Drive—it prefers moister soils. Often partially hidden among tall grasses and plants, it takes an observant eye to locate. Once you become accustomed to it, you will spot it in many locations. It can't help but cheer you to see it. The bright orange petals, technically called “tepals” in lilies and some related flowers, have small purple or brown spots. These spotted petals are strangely recurved, giving the flower the form of a hat or turban (for that reason, this kind of lily is often called a “Turk's cap” lily). It also has 5 to 7 leaves appearing in whorls along the stem, and reaches a height of four to five feet. All of these features make it a striking specimen. I know that summer is truly arrived when the Michigan lily appears.
Michigan lilies require cross pollination to produce viable seeds. This means that pollen from one plant must be carried to the flower of another plant for fertilization to occur. Cross pollination can be carried out by wind, insects, or animals. Many agricultural crops require cross pollination: hence the importance of bees in agriculture. These beautiful flowers naturally draw the most attractive members of the insect world, including large sphinx moths and showy butterflies like monarchs and great spangled fritillaries. They may even be pollinated by hummingbirds, though I have not personally witnessed a hummingbird taking nectar from this plant.
The Michigan lily has a yellow bulb with fibrous roots, or so I have read, as I have never dug one up. I have however planted many horticultural varieties of lilies and seen yellow bulbs with fibrous roots so I assume the roots are similar in appearance to some of the Asiatic and Oriental lilies you might grow in your garden. Michigan lilies are cultivated and available for purchase.
Deer, for some reason, often have a strong appetite for beautiful flowers like orchids, trillium and lilies. Perhaps like us they like their meals to be appealing to the eye. The population of lilies may fluctuate with the deer population.
As far as I can tell, Michigan lily has no practical or medicinal uses and is apparently not frequently eaten by people. But for a plant so lovely, its existence is quite sufficient.