Tulip vs. Lily: Cousin Flowers You’ll Love

Written by Sandy Porter
Updated: March 14, 2023
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Tulips and lilies both signal springtime for many folks around the world. The plants push up through the soil, producing leafy stalks, vibrant flowers, and an array of colors. We prize the flowers in ornamental gardens the world over as pathway-lining plants and in spring bouquets, wedding bouquets, and more. But what are the differences, really, between these two plants, and how do they impact their uses?

Lilium pardalinum, also known as leopard or panther lily

Close-up of Lilium pardalinum, also known as

leopard

or panther lily.

©iStock.com/Dmitry Potashkin

TulipLily
ClassificationTulipa, over 110 species, thousands of hybrids and cultivarsLillium; 90 species of lilies
DescriptionTulips have 2 to 3 blue-green leaves, with a single or double flower in any variety of colors, from red to pink, orange, yellow, white, or practically any color except true blue.Lilies may produce either solitary or clustered flowers, in a range of styles like trumpet, bowl, bell, or cup, in a huge range of colors and forms, including tiger (spotted) or striped.
UsesTulips have been used in ornamental gardens, cutting gardens, herbal and medicinal gardens, and culinary gardens. The bulb and flowers are both edible and may be eaten cooked or raw.Lilies are edible plants that have been used in culinary, medicinal, and ornamental gardens for millennia. The plants have been used to treat aging diseases, coughs, and burns, as well as garnishes, and replacements for onions.
Origins and growing preferencesTulips are known to have been cultivated for centuries, believed to have first appeared in cultivation in the 10th Century in Persia. The plant needs full sun and well-draining soil.Lilies have been cultivated for millennia since Asia Minor, dating back at least 2000 years BCE. The plants require proper draining soil, but otherwise they’re fairly flexible with their preferences.
Fun facts and intriguing triviaTulips are the national flower of both Iran and Turkey, they are the symbol of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, and were once notoriously more expensive than the average laborer could afford in ten years.Lilies symbolize a wide range of things from red demonstrating passion and love to orange showing pride and confidence. The plant is central to a Chinese dish known as Buddha’s Delight.

Key Differences Between Tulips and Lilies

Tulips and lilies belong to the same family (the lily family) but when you look at them, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that. There are many differences between them otherwise, as well, and some intriguing similarities, like coloration options found naturally among the plants.

Tulips vs. Lilies: Classification

A field of purple tulips in spring. The tulip is called NEGRITA.

Tulips come in practically every color in nature, save for true blue shades.

©Indra Artelt/Shutterstock.com

The botanical name for the tulip is Tulipa. The genus is in the lily family, Liliaceae. The plants are bulbous, with large, showy flowers. Tulips are cold-hardy and require cold seasons to thrive, so they cannot grow in tropical climates. Grown for centuries, tulips have been modified intentionally to create unique cultivars, other colors, and patterns. The striped tulips, for example, were originally striped because of a virus carried by aphids. When this was discovered, botanists started using the DNA from the virus to create the coloration intentionally.

Lilies are in the genus of Lillium, in the Liliaceae family as well. They are divided into six major categories: Tiger, Trumpet, Orienpet, Oriental, Asiatic, and longiflorum x Asiatic. Many of the plants from the various categories are intentionally crossbred to create new, unique lilies of differing sizes, colors, color variegation, and more.

Tulips vs. Lilies: Description

Lilium sp. ‘Golden Splendor’

Lilium sp. ‘Golden Splendor’, a unique, colorful variety of lily, a “trumpet” form.

©CoinUp/Shutterstock.com

Tulips have two to three thick blue-green leaves that cluster at the base of the stalk of the plant. The flowers have a single bell-shaped bloom, three petals, six stamens, and three sepals. They are bulb plants, meaning that though they produce seeds, they most often grow from their bulbs. The flowers may come in several forms, including single or double blooms, with standard or frilled edges. The flowers come in a huge range of colors, including white, cream, orange, yellow, pink, purple, lilac, violet, and red. Basically, tulips come in every color except true blue. They also may come in striped and multi-color forms.

Lilies are erect perennial plants with scaly bulbs, typically narrow leaves, and either solitary or clustered flowers. The flowers have six tepals and come in a range of shapes including trumpet, flat, bowl, bell, funnel, or cup. The flowers may be nodding or reflexed, atop stiff, unbranching stems. Lilies come in a huge range of colors, like tulips, with red, pink, yellow, orange, gold, yellow, cream, white, off-white, purple, light purple, and violet. Some have spots (like the tiger lily) or striped.

Tulips vs. Lilies: Uses

Candy Apple Delight Tulip

Plant your Candy Apple Delight Tulips in a group or on their own for a cheerful and refined effect in your garden.

©Sergey V. Kalyakin/Shutterstock.com

Tulips have been favored in flowerbeds, cutting gardens, herbal gardens, and container gardens for centuries. The beautiful blooms are popular as cut flowers for flower vases or single-stem displays. They’re regularly used in wedding bouquets and as indoor plants. The flower and bulb are also edible, so their flowers have been used as a salad garnish. The plant is often used in skincare products, as the plant helps to calm insect bites and stings, rashes, itching, and skin moisturizing. Red tulips have also been crushed and used as natural blushes and concealers.

Lilies are also edible and have been used in the culinary world for millennia. The bulbs, like tulip bulbs, are often used instead of onions in cooking. The flower is used ornamentally in gardens, as cut flowers, in bouquets, and as potted plants. The plant has been used to help with a variety of ailments, including aging diseases, burns, coughs, and ulcers.

Be sure to consult with a medical care professional about using any kind of plant for treatments for conditions.

Tulips vs. Lilies: Origins and Growing Preferences

Hummingbird, Flower, Bird, Close-up, Color Image

Lilies come in many colors, attracting pollinators to them the world over.

©iStock.com/mbolina

Tulips

t’s theorized that tulip cultivation began in the 10th Century in Persia (Iran), ultimately becoming the symbol of the Ottoman Empire. We do know for sure that tulips originated in Asia, even if the exact origin points are somewhat of a mystery. Some of the varieties originated along the Chinese-Russian border. We also know that an Austrian ambassador to Turkey brought back bulbs with him to Europ. He passed them along to botanist Carolus Clusius. He established a garden in the Netherlands, growing tulips with the bulbs, and the tulips were a wild success and became instantly popular among the Dutch and the rest of Europe. The popularity continued and spread, eventually reaching pretty much the whole world. Tulips remain one of the most popular flower choices on the planet.

To grow healthy tulips, plant their bulbs 6 to 8 inches deep, 4 to 6 inches apart from each other. Make sure they’re in locations with full sun and properly draining soil. Provide them with balanced fertilizer and keep them watered but not soggy.

Lilies

Lilies are among some of the oldest known cultivated plants in the history of humanity. We know that they date back at least 2000 years BCE, with mentions in ancient scripts such as the Bible. The bulb of the Madonna lily was cultivated for medicinal uses, other varieties for culinary purposes. Ancient Greeks and Romans alike grew them for both ornamental and medicinal purposes, and artists have long depicted the various flower species of lily in paintings, pottery, and tapestries.

Lilies are not as delicate a plant as their looks would imply, either. They’re easy to grow and just need a few key factors in place to keep them thriving. They need proper draining soil, with the bulbs planted about 1 foot apart. They can do well in full sun, partial shade, dappled light, or light shade. Add some bonemeal to their soil for best results and otherwise, keep them watered (but not soggy).

Tulips vs. Lilies: Special Features and Fun Facts

Lilium sp. ‘Orange Pixie’ flowers

Lilies come in so many vibrant colors, each one representing a special meaning.

©Peter Etchells/Shutterstock.com

Tulips vs. lilies give us some fascinating facts and intriguing trivia to consider.

Tulips

The fascination with the three-petaled beauties known as tulips started with Tulip Mania in the 1630s. Holland remains the largest tulip producer in the world to this day, exporting something like 3 billion bulbs every single year. The stunning blooms have inspired artwork all over the world, too, with centuries-old works of Islamic art featuring the stunning flowers, German painters like Jacob Marrel creating a book of tulip paintings, which in turn inspired textiles and furniture, to still-life paintings created by Dutch Old Masters in the 1600s. The flower in art even saw a resurgence in the mid and late1800s with Tiffany lamps and arts and crafts of many kinds. The word itself, ‘tulip’ comes from the Persian (Iranian) word meaning “turban.” The tulip is so beloved there, and in Turkey, that it is the national flower in both nations.

Additionally, tulips follow the sun, wherever they are, even when they’ve been cut and placed in a vase. They even continue to grow after they’ve been cut! The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation loves the tulip, as well, and uses the flower as its symbol. And at one point, one tulip bulb was so expensive that they were worth more than some homes, costing something equivalent to 10 times the average working person’s salary in the 1600s.

Lilies

Lilies also grow from bulbs, being part of the same family. The colors of the flowers symbolize different things, too. Pink lilies, for example, represent abundance and prosperity. Red lilies demonstrate love and passion. Yellow lilies call for joy, good health, and gratitude. White lilies represent virtue, purity, and innocence. Orange lilies mean confidence, wealth, and pride.

The perennial plants are social plants. They grow best in groupings of 3 or 5. Lilies are also exceptionally long-lasting as cut flowers, making them one of the most popular choices among florists. And, interestingly enough, only white lilies and tiger lilies are fragrant. So, if you go up to a daylily in all its orange or yellow glory, you won’t get any heady whiffs. And though lilies are toxic for pets, the flowers are actually edible for humans. The bulbs are used in Chinese cuisine as a garnish or vegetable, specifically in a dish known as Buddha’s Delight.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©


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About the Author

Sandy Porter is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering house garden plants, mammals, reptiles, and birds. Sandy has been writing professionally since 2017, has a Bachelor’s degree and is currently seeking her Masters. She has had lifelong experience with home gardens, cats, dogs, horses, lizards, frogs, and turtles and has written about these plants and animals professionally since 2017. She spent many years volunteering with horses and looks forward to extending that volunteer work into equine therapy in the near future. Sandy lives in Chicago, where she enjoys spotting wildlife such as foxes, rabbits, owls, hawks, and skunks on her patio and micro-garden.

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