The Lily Tree - A Controversial Plant
Looking at a description of a lily tree from one of the major mail order houses might convince you it is a "must have" for your garden, especially if you like lilies. There are tropical trees that feature lily-like, or at least trumpet-like blossoms, but imaging starting your own lily tree from a bulb, in your own non-tropical garden. Seems almost too good to be true.
There's no doubt that the lily tree is an extremely attractive plant that will do justice to any garden. No one will deny that. What upsets more than a few gardeners and horticulturists is that the tulip tree is not really a tree. It isn't even a shrub! The tulip tree is simply a rather large lily plant that can grow to several feet high, branching out in the process. In short it is a large plant surrounded by an even larger amount of hype.
Descriptions Can Deceive - Flower garden plants often look a great deal more spectacular in the plant catalogs than they are apt to look in your garden. That's to be suspected. You won't sell many flower plants or seeds by mail if your ads are accompanied by unattractive or bland images of the plant in question. If you purchase a tulip tree bulb by mail order or on line, you can reasonably expect to have a very attractive plant the following growing season, and an even more attractive plant the season after that. But, you should not expect a tree, unless a 4 to 5 foot high plant satisfies your definition of a tree. The controversy surrounding the tulip tree is not about the plant itself. It is a beauty. The controversy has to do with the way the tulip tree is marketed. When you read a description of the plant and that description contains an inordinate amount of exclamation points, a warning flag should go up. After all, which sounds larger? 4 feet - or 4 feet!!!
No Guarantee In Zone 3 - Aside from size and height, some growers take exception to the statement that most varieties of lily trees are hardy in USDA Zones 3-10. That's basically true, but is should be noted that more than one grower in Zone 3 is not particularly happy with his or her plant's performance, or ability to come back every spring as a perennial should. That is perhaps a bit of a nit-pick as there do not appear to be many gardeners in zones 4 and up who have that problem.
Not A Tree But A Lovely Plant - It is a fact though that the lily tree is quite hardy and that it does not require a great deal of care. If you are not expecting something you could build a tree house in, the lily tree probably deserves a place in your garden, as it is an extremely lovely plant. It will grow to a couple of feet the first year, and perhaps a couple more the next year, with even more blossoms. After 3 years it will probably top out at its maximum height. You can grow one or more as specimen plants, or grow several as a backdrop for lower growing perennials or annuals. The bulbs are planted 5 to 6 inches deep with a recommended spacing of 12". They will do best in direct sun although if you live in an area where the summer sun is particularly fierce you might have better results growing the lilies in partial shade.
If you can get past the hype that seems to accompany this particular plant, and not be bothered by the fact that the lily tree is definitely not a tree, and never will be, you can enjoy one or more of these in your garden, and more than likely enjoy the compliments of your neighbors as well.