Plant Species of San Jacinto Mountain: Lilium parryi, Lemon Lily

Lemon Lily or Parry's Lily, Lilium parryi, is one of the special treasures of the San Jacinto Mountains. It grows mainly in the mountain ranges of southern California, with the only other population a small population in southeastern Arizona.

Unfortunately, humans have not treated this species well. It used to be extremely abundant in the San Bernardino Mountains and the San Jacinto Mountains, but those populations have been extirpated in many places because people love to pick the flowers and dig up the bulbs. Lemon lilies reproduce in the wild almost entirely by seed, the seed is only viable for a few years, and the plants are short-lived. Thus whole populations can quickly be eliminated forever by the actions of humans for only a few years.

Historical Account

The first written record we have found for lemon lilies is from an account of Charles Christopher Parry, presented to 15 members of the Davenport Academy of Sciences on November 30, 1877 (published in 1880), titled A New California Lily:

On one of my last botanical excursions in the vicinity of San Bernardino, Southern California, in the early part of July, 1876, I improved the opportunity to accept an often repeated invitation to visit the intelligent brothers, J.G. and F.M. Ring at their mountain retreat near San Gorgonio Pass. ... In one of these mountain nooks the Messrs. Ring have located a potato patch, the elevation of over 4,000 feet above the sea level giving a sufficiently cool moist climate.


What, however, soon attracted more exclusive attention was a conspicuous yellow lily, growing abundantly in the boggy ground adjoining the house, and sharing with the potato patch the care and attention of the undisputed proprietors of the soil. (add rest) The specimens then collected, together with later material, obligingly furnished by Mr. Ring, has supplied the necessary means for a complete description, and the whole having been placed at the disposal of Mr. Sereno Watson, who is now elaborating the endogenous flora of California, he has determined the same as an undescribed species, which he has complimented the discovered by naming Lilium Parryi Watson.

The formal botanical description of the species by Watson was included in Parry's article, stating that it was from Watson's 1880 Botany of California that was in ed. (=in press). This article by Parry is the one cited as the source of the name Lilium parryi. For example, here is an excerpt from a bibliography of the main works of Watson published on his death:

Characterized Description of Lilium Parryi, by Sereno Watson; inserted in A New California Lily, by Dr. C.C. Parry. With two plates. Proc. Davenport Acad. of Nat. Sciences, Vol. ii, pp. 188-189, Davenport, Iowa 1880.

Oddly, Parry's account of A New California Lily was not quite complete; Parry left out his co-collector, who actually had made a collection of this species one month earlier! Parry wrote this account on October 28, 1878, when he deposited his entire botanical collections with the Davenport Society:

In 1875, I spent the summer in central Utah... In the fall of that year I continued my collecting trip to Southern California, and in the season of 1876, in connection with Prof. J.G. Lemmon, the enthusiastic California botanist made a very full collection of the plants in the vicinity of San Bernardino, including the high mountain district adjoining, and the desert stretches lying east of the sierra nevada.

In fact, there are three online vouchers (POM172754, UC336533, and NY319769) collected only by Lemmon in June 1876 from near San Gorgonio Pass (and around Grayback).

No type specimen was cited in Watson's publication, but the Harvard Herbarium, where Watson worked, cites C. C. Parry & J. G. Lemmon 387, 4 Jul 1875, Marsh in San Gorgonio Pass as the type specimen. Interestingly, that Harvard page cites a different publication as the source of the name, Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts 14: 256. 1879. However, that publication is Watson's monograph Revision of the North American Liliaceae, and in the Lilium parryi entry Watson refers to the Davenport publication as the source for the name.

The New York Botanical Garden lists four possible type specimens for Lilium parryi at their institution. Three of them are duplicates of the Parry and Lemmon 387 collection; the fourth is a duplicate of the Lemmon June 1876 collection.

It seems odd that Lemmon got short shrift here, but it appears that this was because Parry and Lemmon had found another new species in May 1876 which was named for Lemmon: Lemmonia californica (JEPS2685 and NY52706). The type specimen was collected by C. C. Parry and J. G. Lemmon, 267, May 3 1876.

Unfortunately for Lemmon in this case, his genus name did not survive: this plant is now known as Nama californicum.

no modification done below this point. add discussion of origin of common name.

This member of the Lily Family Liliaceae is a perennial herb which grows from a bulb with a stem reaching a height of 1.9 meters. It has scattered or whorled leaves with very fragrant lemon-yellow funnel shaped flowers. In Southern California it grows in the San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and San Jacinto Mountains as well as Palomar Mountain. Small populations can also be found in southeastern Arizona in the Santa Rita, Huachuca, and Chiricahua Mountains and in extreme northern Sonora, Mexico in the Sierra los Ajos. They inhabit springs, seeps, wet meadows, and shady canyon bottoms along perennial streams at an elevation of 4,000 to 9,000 feet. Three populations in Arizona have been severely impacted by fire and subsequent erosion; and a fourth by mining activity (Arizona Game and Fish Department, 2001). In California their populations have been negatively impacted by "flower pullers" in Palomar (Craig H. Reiser, 1994) and bulb collectors in San Jacinto (H.M.Hall, 1902). It is uncommon throughout its California range and close to extirpation in San Diego County (Craig H. Reiser, 1994) and is listed by state and federal agencies as a sensitive species that should be protected.

We thank Jane Strong for help in tracking down the online vouchers of the possible type specimens, and for finding the species named for Lemmon just prior to the naming of Lilium parryi for Parry.

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Copyright © 2009 by Dave Stith and Tom Chester.
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Updated 14 December 2009.