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Published In: Genera Plantarum 48. 1789. (4 Aug 1789) (Gen. Pl.) Name publication detailView in BotanicusView in Biodiversity Heritage Library

Project Name Data (Last Modified On 7/9/2009)
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LILIACEAE (Lily Family)

Plants perennial herbs with rhizomes, corms, or bulbs. Leaves alternate or all basal or nearly so, less commonly whorled, the leaf blades flat, folded longitudinally, or less commonly tubular, the bases often forming sheaths. Main veins parallel, the secondary veins sometimes prominent and forming a network. Inflorescences racemes, spikes, umbels, panicles, or 1-flowered, the flowers often subtended by bracts. Flowers usually perfect, less commonly some of the flowers functionally unisexual or the plants dioecious, radially symmetric or less commonly somewhat bilaterally symmetric, with 3 sepals and 3 petals, these similar or dissimilar, free or less commonly fused basally or into a tube, the sepals usually colored. Stamens 6 or rarely 3. Ovary 1 per flower or sometimes deeply 3-lobed and appearing as 3 separate carpels, superior or inferior, with 3 locules. Styles 1 or 3 per flower, if 1 then entire or 3-lobed. Fruits capsules or berries, with few to many seeds. Two hundred eighty to 295 genera, 4,000–4,500 species, worldwide.

The Liliaceae and their relatives have received a variety of treatments in the past, both traditionally and by modern systematists. Overall, the group is widespread, diverse, and taxonomically complex enough that none of the classifications proposed thus far has proven entirely satisfactory. Traditionally, two or more families were recognized, mainly the Liliaceae and Amaryllidaceae, which were separated either by inflorescence types (umbels vs. other types) or by superior vs. inferior ovaries. More recently, several researchers recognized that these classifications often split up closely related groups, rendering them both artificial and uninformative.

Modern classifications have followed two different philosophies. The classification followed here was advanced by Cronquist (1981, 1991) in which most of the genera are subsumed into a huge, polymorphic Liliaceae, splitting off a minority of smaller, specialized groups. In Missouri, these include the Agavaceae, Dioscoreaceae, and Smilacaceae. This system has the utilitarian advantage of circumscribing families that are easily discriminated from other monocots, but the core family, Liliaceae, is so polymorphic as to become difficult to circumscribe morphologically. The classification also is relatively uninformative regarding relationships among a large number of monocot genera, and at least the Agavaceae may still be polymorphic phylogenetically. The logical extreme of this philosophy would be to recognize a single, all-encompassing Liliaceae, with no segregates at all.

At the other extreme, Dahlgren and his collaborators recognized a much larger number of families and orders (summarized and described in Dahlgren et al., 1985). The advantage of this classification is that most of the family units recognized circumscribe monophyletic (natural) groups of genera. However, in practice it seems almost impossible to construct a key to distinguish among these families unambiguously without resorting to couplets that actually separate individual genera. This is because the characters used by Dahlgren et al. (1985) to delineate families are primarily cytological, phytochemical, and anatomical, rather than morphological.

Thus, for strictly practical reasons, the present treatment accepts the Liliaceae in the broad sense of Cronquist (1982, 1991), with only the Agavaceae, Dioscoreaceae, and Smilacaceae treated separately. However, for those readers who are curious about how the 30 native and introduced genera of these families found in Missouri were classified by Dahlgren et al. (1985), the following list indicates their placement into 14 families:

Agavaceae Manfreda, Yucca

Alliaceae Allium, Dichelostemma, Nothoscordum

Amaryllidaceae Hymenocallis, Leucojum, Narcissus

Asparagaceae Asparagus

Convallariaceae Convallaria, Maianthemum, Polygonatum

Dioscoreaceae Dioscorea

Hemerocallidaceae Hemerocallis

Hyacinthaceae Camassia, Muscari, Ornithogalum, Scilla

Hypoxidaceae Hypoxis

Liliaceae Erythronium, Lilium, Medeola

Melanthiaceae Amianthium, Melanthium, Stenanthium, Veratrum, Zigadenus

Smilacaceae Smilax

Trilliaceae Trillium

Uvulariaceae Uvularia

The following key to genera will work only for the Missouri representatives of the included genera and is based primarily upon flower structures. Readers should note that several additional genera of Liliaceae, such as Tulipa L. (tulip), Hosta Tratt. (hosta), and Hyacinthus L.(hyacinth), are commonly cultivated as ornamentals in the state. These persist at old homesites but have not been reported as naturalized to date and are not treated here.


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1 Ovary inferior (2)
+ Ovary superior or nearly so (5)
2 (1) Outer (under) surface of perianth and the flower stalks hairy; leaves sparsely to densely hairy 10 Hypoxis
+ Plants glabrous (3)
3 (2) Flowers and fruits sessile; perianth white; corona of petaloid tissue present, forming an irregular tube fused to the lower half of the filaments of the stamens 9 Hymenocallis
+ Flowers and fruits short- to long-stalked; corona absent or if present then not fused to the filaments of the stamens (4)
4 (3) Tepals free, with green tips, the perianth bell-shaped; corona absent 11 Leucojum
+ Tepals fused into a slender tube basally, the perianth lobes broadly spreading, uniformly colored (however, tip of corona sometimes with an orange margin); corona of petaloid tissue present forming a shallow cup or a long, broad tube between the perianth and the stamens 17 Narcissus
5 (1) Leaflike parts (actually branchlets) filiform, 4–18 mm long, the true leaves reduced to scales 3 Asparagus
+ True leaves linear to nearly orbicular, much longer than 2 cm (excluding bracts of the inflorescence), or all leaves and leaflike structures absent at flowering time (6)
6 (5) Flowers or inflorescences produced from the axils of leaves along the aerial stems (7)
+ Flower, flowers, or inflorescence appearing at the tip of the aerial stem or its branches (8)
7 (6) Sepals and petals fused nearly to the tips 20 Polygonatum
+ Sepals and petals free 24 Uvularia
8 (6) Stem forked into 2 branches below the inflorescence, the branches with normal foliage leaves 24 Uvularia
+ Stems unbranched below the inflorescence (9)
9 (8) Leaves in 1–2 whorls (10)
+ Leaves alternate or all basal or nearly so, or if whorled then with several whorls along the stem (11)
10 (9) Leaves in a single whorl of 3 at the tip of the stem; inflorescences 1-flowered 25 Trillium
+ Leaves in 2 whorls of 3–11; inflorescences umbels of 3–9 flowers 14 Medeola
11 (9) Perianth 50–130 mm long, orange to orangish red (12)
+ Perianth less than 50 mm long, white, yellow, green, blue, purple, maroon, or purplish brown (13)
12 (11) Perianth lacking purple or brownish purple spots; leaves basal 8 Hemerocallis
+ Perianth with purple or brownish purple spots; aerial stems with numerous leaves 12 Lilium
13 (11) Flowers 1 per aerial stem, the perianth 15–50 mm long, yellow or white 7 Erythronium
+ Inflorescences spikes, racemes, panicles, or umbels, or if single, then the perianth 12–14 mm long, blue (14)
14 (13) Inflorescences umbels or very short, congested, umbel-like racemes (15)
+ Inflorescences racemes or panicles, rarely reduced to a single flower (17)
15 (14) Perianth 17–20 mm long, the sepals and petals fused into a tube in the basal 1/3–1/2; none of the flowers replaced by bulblets 6 Dichelostemma
+ Perianth 4–14 mm long, the sepals and petals free; some or all of the flowers sometimes replaced by bulblets (16)
16 (15) Plants with the odor of onion or garlic when bruised or crushed; locules with 1 or 2 ovules or seeds; some or all of the flowers sometimes replaced by bulblets 1 Allium
+ Plants lacking a distinctive odor; locules with 3–10 ovules or seeds; none of the flowers replaced by bulblets 18 Nothoscordum
17 (14) Sepals and petals fused nearly to the tips (18)
+ Sepals and petals free or fused only at the very base (19)
18 (17) Perianth white, bell-shaped; leaves elliptic 5 Convallaria
+ Perianth blue to purple, tubular or urn-shaped; leaves linear to linear-lanceolate 16 Muscari
19 (17) Ovary with 3 separate styles (1 from each lobe) (20)
+ Ovary with 1 style (24)
20 (19) Aerial stems hairy (21)
+ Aerial stems glabrous (22)
21 (20) Perianth milky white to pale yellow, turning greenish yellow, the sepals and petals with a stalklike base and with a pair of large, yellow to greenish brown glands at the base of the expanded portion; basal leaves linear 15 Melanthium
+ Perianth maroon to purplish brown, the sepals and petals lacking stalklike bases and glands; basal leaves oblanceolate to elliptic 25 Veratrum
22 (20) Sepals and petals with 1 or 2 large, yellow to green glands at the base 26 Zigadenus
+ Sepals and petals lacking glands (23)
23 (22) Flower stalks 12–18 mm long, longer than the flowers 2 Amianthium
+ Flower stalks absent or up to 2 mm long, shorter than the flowers 22 Stenanthium
24 (19) Sepals and petals white with a broad, green, longitudinal stripe on the outer (under) surface 19 Ornithogalum
+ Sepals and petals variously colored, but lacking a green stripe (25)
25 (24) Basal leaves not apparent at flowering, the aerial stems leafy with several leaves nearly to the tips 13 Maianthemum
+ Leaves basal or nearly so, those of the aerial stems few and much smaller than the basal leaves, sometimes reduced to bracts (26)
26 (25) Inflorescences with 7–100 flowers; sepals and petals nearly white to lavender or pale blue, with several veins 4 Camassia
+ Inflorescences with 1–4 flowers; sepals and petals deep blue, with 1 vein 21 Scilla
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