The lily's showy flowers earn it the nickname "Queen" or "Grand Dame" of the garden. In fact, many flowers that are commonly referred to as lilies, such as canna and calla lilies, do not actually belong to the lily family. True lilies belong to the Lilium family, which is a part of the larger Liliacaeae family. Although specific characteristics vary by species, most lilies have certain features that distinguish them from non-lily plants.

True lilies are bulbs that belong to the Lilium family.

The Lily Bulb

True lilies grow from bulbs rather than seed. Mike's Backyard Garden describes the lily bulb as resembling an artichoke. The bulb has several compacted scales which develop into the lily's leaves. One way to differentiate lily species is to look at the color of the bulb scales, which can be yellow, white or reddish-purple. At the base of the scales is the basal plate, which produces scales, buds and roots. Before the plant develops roots and leaves, the scales provide nourishment for the plant. Once the lily has emerged from the bulb, the stem roots feed the plant, and the basal roots at the very bottom of the bulb provide support.

Physical Characteristics

According to the Pacific Northwest Lily Society, lilies share a variety of physical characteristics. Flowers always have three outer sepals and three petals, although these look very much the same and are usually called tepals. Flowers also have six stamens, which are tipped with pollen-filled anthers. The color of the pollen is usually yellow, orange or brown. It stains very easily, so always be cautious when transporting or handling lily flowers. Lilies also tend to have long, thin leaves and unbranched stems.

Growing Requirements

Once again, although growing requirements vary by cultivar, most lilies share many growing preferences. Most lilies prefer well-drained soils with a pH between six and seven. Raised beds and sloped surfaces encourage better drainage and are desirable for gardeners with heavy soil. Lilies also need to be planted deep in the soil since they produce stem roots above the bulb; the exception to this requirement is the lilium candidum variety. The Genus Lilium recommends covering the bulb with soil about two to four times its own height. Most varieties also need at least six hours of sunlight each day.