Colin Mills, compiler of the Hortus Camdenensis, died in late November 2012 after a short illness. As he always considered the Hortus his legacy, it is his family's intention to keep the site running in perpetuity. It will not, however, be updated in the near future.

Lilium speciosum Thunb.

Fully-hardy, vigorous stem-rooting lily with scattered lance-shaped leaves and racemes of up to 12 large, fragrant, pendant, turkscap, pale pink or white flowers, flushed deeper pink in the centre, in summer and autumn.  To 1.7m.  Grey describes Lilium lancifolium of gardens as having ‘huge and fragrant nodding blooms, appearing in late summer, heavily suffused with pink, with white petal margins, and as many as 40-50 blooms per stem’.   [RHSE, Hortus].

Horticultural & Botanical History

Paxton’s Dictionary describes 3 varieties: album, white; roseum, white and pink; and speciosum, white and pink.  From the early days of the culture of Lilium speciosum Thunb. in Europe there was confusion in its naming, with Lilium lancifolium in common use.  A writer in The Gardeners Chronicle, probably John Lindley, commented on the relationship of Lilium lancifolium and Lilium speciosum: ‘The real Lilium lancifolium is not known to be in Europe; of L. speciosum there are several varieties. […]  The L. lancifolium of gardens is the same as L. speciosum.’  [GC p.120/1844)]. 

The Botanical Register records some of the history of this plant and clarifies its name: ‘All the Lilies previously seen in Europe, however beautiful they may be, are quite thrown into the shade by this glorious species, for which we have to thank Dr. von Siebold, who introduced it to Holland from Japan.  Not only is it handsome beyond all we before knew in gardens, on account of the clear, deep rose-colour of its flowers, which seem all rugged with rubies and garnets, and sparkling with crystal points, but it has the sweet fragrance of a Petunia.  Well might Kaempfer speak of it as “flos magnificae pulchritudinis,” for surely if there is any thing not human, which is magnificent in beauty, it is this plant.

Beyond its own country it has no rival; but in Japan there are others that will scarcely yield even to it.  Kaempfer tells us of the Oni Juri, or Devil’s Lily, with a showy flower, a span in breadth, the flowers all stained and mottled with crimson and purple, and minium; of the Fime Juri, a dwarf species, daggled with marks of blood, its purple flowers moreover spotted with crimson ; and of the Fi Juri, or Fiery Lily.  Can these be among the twenty species of Lily which Dr. von Siebold is said to have brought alive from Japan to the Botanic Garden of Ghent?  Kaempfer learned that the Japanese had obtained this species from Corea ; Thunberg saw it about Nagasaki and elsewhere, but cultivated.

In the gardens here it has obtained the wrong name of L. lancifolium, which is a different species.  Several accounts of it appear to have been published in Belgium, it having flowered at Ghent so long since as August, 1832, under the care of the late excellent gardener, Mr. Mussche; the only account that I am acquainted with is that by Professor Morren, where a detailed description will be found.

The accompanying drawing, by Miss Drake, was made in the nursery of the Messrs. Rollisson of Tooting, in August last.  I presume it requires the same treatment as Lilium japonicum and longiflorum, which flower beautifully every year, if planted in good light loamy soil, in a glazed pit, where they are protected from wet and severe cold in winter.’  [BR f.2000/1837].

The Floricultural Cabinet reported that ‘Mr. Young (of Epsom Nursery) possesses the new kind sent by Dr. V. Siebold from Japan.  The flowers are white, very handsome.’  Young also had the varieties roseum and punctatum.  

 ‘This superb plant [Lilium speciosum] and its allies have unquestionably been the most attractive objects in the London nurseries during the late season.  We allude more particularly to the one figured in another part of the present number [Lilium lancifolium roseum], and L. lancifolium album, though the latter is by far the least beautiful of the three. […] We may mention a remarkable variation in the colour of L. speciosum, which occurred in several instances during the last summer.  We saw plants of this species in flower in 1837, and the same specimens bloomed most profusely in 1838.  In the latter season, the colours of the flowers were so much paler, that it was considered identical with L. lancifolium roseum by many who had only made a cursory examination of the last-named plant.’  [MB p.273/1838]. 

Paxton’s Magazine of Botany also figured L. lancifolium roseum, which it considered to be synonymous with punctatum.  ‘In the exquisite loveliness of its flowers, their superior size, and the stronger and more robust habits of the plant, this charming variety out vies the splendid species (L. speciosum). […] The dazzling brilliancy of hue for which the species just mentioned is so deservedly admired, alone maintains its ascendency, for in every other respect our present subject is decidedly unequalled.  Among the many beautiful and valuable plants introduced to this country from Japan through the researches of Dr. Siebold, perhaps none can be compared with these truly magnificent lilies.  Indeed, we scarcely think there is exaggeration in the statement, that they are unsurpassed by any plant previously known and cultivated in Britain.’  [MB p.267/1838]. 

 ‘The different varieties of L. lancifolium, which are now nearly everywhere in full bloom, must certainly be classed amongst the most ornamental of autumn-flowering plants, and they are so easily managed, that almost anybody can grow them’.  [Gard. Chron. 1852]. 

Grey comments that Lilium speciosum ‘has been spoilt by the Dutch growers, their bulbs producing flowers inferior in colour to those imported from the East, though more easily established in British gardens’.  This is a possible explanation for the names Lilium lancifolium and Lilium speciosum appearing in the catalogues, one derived from European stock and the other from Eastern stock or ‘unspoilt’ British garden stock.  FS pl.IV & V 10e Liv./1847.  BF pl.8/1840.

History at Camden Park

Listed in the 1845, 1850 and 1857 catalogues as Lilium lancifolium [B.309/1845] and as Lilium speciosum [B.315/1845].  Plants were also obtained from Veitch’s Nursery under the name Lilium speciosum, brought out from England by Captain P. P. King in 1849.  Macarthur has marked it with an ‘x’, denoting that he believed it to be common before or long introduced.  He was certainly growing it by 1845.  [ML A1980-3].



Published Dec 26, 2009 - 04:18 PM | Last updated Jul 25, 2010 - 04:28 PM

Figured are lance-shaped leaves and a pink lily with darker, raised spots and reflexed petals.  Botanical Register f.2000, 1837.

Lilium speciosum Thunb. | BR f.2000/1837.  This is the variety punctatum | BHL

Family Liliaceae
Region of origin

East Asia originally but certainly of garden origin in both China and Japan

  • Lilium lancifolium Hort. ex Guill.
  • Lilium superbum Thunb.
  • Lilium broussarti Morr. 
Common Name

Showy Japanese lily

Name in the Camden Park Record

Lilium lancifolium

Lilium speciosum

Confidence level high