Could someone please tell me what Lavender Mountain Lilies are?



A recent missive from my neighborhood organization offered the following:

A. 10 Monsella Tulips ($15)
E. 20 Jumbo Crocuses ($10)
B. 25 Lavender Mountain Lilies ($10)
F. 5 Fragrant Hyacinths ($10)
C. 10 Naturalizing Daffodils ($12)
G. 3 Stargazer Lilies ($10)
D. 5 Allium Purple Sensations ($10)
H. 10 Deluxe Tulips ($10)
I. 10 Quail Daffodils ($10)
L. 20 Blue Grape Hyacinths ($10)
J. 20 Glory of Snows ($10)
M. Spring Garden Collection ($20)
Includes 50 bulbs (5 Deluxe Tulips; 5 Deluxe
Daffodils; 10 Blue Grape Hyacinths; 10 Alpine
Rosy Bells; 10 Tall Dutch Irises; and 10 Jumbo
K. 10 Angelique Tulips ($15)

It’s that time of year. Many of you have probably received emails similar to the one I just got, offering a selection of bulbs, the sale of which will benefit a local nonprofit—often a school, maybe even the school that your child attends. I don’t have kids but I am a faithful girl scout cookie buyer and soccer team supporter (though I think those big boxes of candy bars left in the office with an envelope are pure evil, especially when you’re the only one there at 10 p.m.).

I am happy to sacrifice my budget and waistline, such as it is, to support these excellent causes, but when it comes to bulbs, I also—kind of—want to know if they’re decent. Before I plunk down $15 for ten Monsellas I can get from John Scheepers for $8 (which is fine), I’d like to be sure I’m not digging up the garden for nothing.

And then the names. I went to the Dutch Gardens site (where I think this sale originates) to get to the bottom of “Lavender Mountain Lilies.” (shown above) I did find small print there IDing the plant as ixiolirion tartaricum. Hmm. Yet another cultivar (among many) that has no business calling itself a lily. I’m not sure the botanical name they give is right either.

Well, I don’t want to be ill-natured about this, but I think that people who are trying to help charities, schools, etc. deserve to get reputable, correctly ID’d bulbs for their money, just as we do when we order from whomever. That’s all.

Oh, and if anyone buys that Lavender Mountain Lily, let me know how you do.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Why shouldn’t it be called a Lily Elizabeth? Are we restricting lily strictly to lilium species? If the latin was wrong I’d be upset but common names I can’t really call mis-id’s cos they’re not really agreed or approved by anyone…

  2. I think the common names for this plant often include the word lily because Ixiolirion tataricum is in the class Liliopsida if you look into the taxonomy.

    Lavender Mountain Lily is among the common names for this bulb; others include: Siberian Lily, Lily-of-the-Altai (I really like this one) and Tartar Lily.

    Any way you describe ’em, they’re beautiful.

  3. Actually, I personally like to keep the name lily for lilium because of the confusion that results otherwise. Lilium are very different plants than the plants that also tend to be called by lily. This is probably the only name I get worked up about, because I grow many lilium.

  4. Elizabeth,

    Thanks for your notes re: the Mountain Lily. This is a great product, as a matter of fact the #1 seller in the program, and the bulbs themselves are all fresh, top-size and top-quality. If you’d like me to send you a sample to check out our quality please drop me a line as I’d be happy to do so.

    Keep blogging!

    Program Director


  5. Thanks Michael,

    It is a very evocative name; that is why it caught my eye. As frequenters of this blog can confirm, I do have over 300 bulbs coming already. But your offer is tempting. Maybe I could fit 2-3 of them somewhere for the sake of horticultural research.

  6. David, Ixiolirion is in the Asperagales, so more closely related to, say, orchids and agaves than lilies:

    But it is futile to impute some kind of systematic logic to common names. Cannas, callas and gingers are all called lilies, and I’m sure you could even find dicots if you looked long enough.

    I’ve often wondered what lily was supposed to mean in common names — it’s not restricted to bulbs, which is what I thought at first. Judging by the OED, the narrowest technical synonym is probably angiosperm:

    Used in all versions of the Bible to render Heb. sh{umac}shan, sh{omac}shan, sh{omac}shann{amac}h, LXX and NT. {kappa}{rho}{giacu}{nu}{omicron}{nu}.

    The Heb. words were prob. used, as the corresponding Arab. s{umac}san still is in Palestine, for all the conspicuous species of lily, lotus (Nymphæa Lotus), anemone, ranunculus, tulip, etc. In Cant. v. 13 a red flower appears to be meant. The ‘lilies of the field’ of Matt. vi. 28 have been variously identified with the red Anemone coronaria and with the scarlet Martagon or Turk’s Cap lily, both of which are common in Galilee. The herbalists of the 16-17th c. took ‘the lily among the thorns’ (lilium inter spinas) of Cant. ii. 2 to be the honeysuckle

  7. Well I did not hear anything about receiving a book about oversized fruit and competition between the sexes, so send me those Lavender Mountain Lilies, ixiolirion tartaricum bulbs Elizabeth and I will test them out. I’m still unemployed and free things make me feel good right now. And I have a new garden to plant.

    Besides my mom has probably ordered millions of bulbs from Dutch Gardens over the years. It may be time for a little customer appreciation kickback here on a NC mountaintop.

  8. I bought the lavender mountain lilies several years ago. About three came up, put forth a few puny blooms and promptly expired never to show themselves above ground again.

  9. Oy, I’ve been flogging bulbs AND cookie dough simultaneously for the kid’s daycare. And the bulbs are all so overpriced – alas. But there are no lavender mountain lilies…

  10. Placed my bulb order two days ago with Scheepers and, alas, did not order the Ixiolirion pallassi syn. I. tataricum but will look forward to seeing those ‘freebies’ come up in your garden, Elizabeth. I think you need to test them out for all of us…or, Christopher C. could do it as he has the time and the inclination and the green thumb also!

  11. I’m with Elizabeth, a complete bulb fanatic. But I find the bulb sale at my children’s school rather poor–too expensive, too late in the season, too many bad mixtures, nobody informing the parents that bulbs love the sandy soil in Saratoga. So I offered to do it, though I’m not sure where I would have found the time. But somebody else is attached to the project, so I’m hoping just to help.

  12. As a testimonial, I put some of these in last fall, and they were lovely in June here in Michigan.

    They bloomed a little more sparsely than the catalog porn led me to hope for, but I’m hoping they come back stronger.

    Oh, and Rachel? 300 bulbs is nothing! Last fall I planted over 1500, but hey, some of them were really small.

    Has anybody else ever hidden bulbs from their spouse, and tried to sneak them into the ground late at night?

    Or is that just me?

  13. Moutain Lillys are very sensitive to frost. Make sure you put mulch over them to protect the bulbs during the winter. That is all I know about them.

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