Nature Alert: Whatever-You’d-Like-To-Call-It Lily

Worldly events of late are convincing many individuals that free feelings often associated with the summer season are unjustified – yet the days are long, the sunbeams are glorious, and the wildflowers are peaking just beyond the bend in the road less traveled for so long.   

As Corvallisites explore farther from home again, let’s not forget the taking of so many Black and Brown lives by unflinching disease and deliberate police action. Let’s hear the calls for dismantling the systems that sustain white privilege, calls being raised to higher octaves than the birdsong we usually seek for solace on the trails we travel. To some, it will be jarring to keep these thoughts at heart when spotting a lovely native wildflower. To some, it will seem at odds to do so in the silly and sincere way that follows. But alas, this is where the bend in the road is taking us, Reader.   

There is a flower that has long held a special place in my heart. Its’ six orange petals are freckled with brown and hang beside each other, upraised like the roofline of a pagoda to unveil its’ procreative organs. It is not often found within the Willamette Valley lowlands, but on the forest edges that traverse the hillsides to mark the Valley’s bounds – those topographic features that nestle human communities in place. As a little girl, I named my first dog after this flower. I’m not exactly sure why it enraptured be so much, but the flower’s aesthetics and the places it could be found certainly played a part.  

But, I am becoming wary of its most used common name and scientific name of similar origin. The Columbia Lily, or Lilium columbianum, is also called Tiger Lily. The last of these names I’ve jammed with for a long time—what little girl who names their rad dog after a flower wouldn’t? But later on, I learned a non-native ornamental lily was also called this, and so started using the former more often. Taxonomy has a history, as many sciences do, rife with inequity and prone to imploring systematic racism. While the field is slowly inching towards looking more representative of the population at large, names seem to stick longer than looks.  

How did the Columbia Lily get its’ Columbia? Is it after the gigantoide river that provides the curving spine to the Pacific Northwest? How did the Columbia River get this name? Whether it was answered in question one or question three, we recall Christopher Columbus, a historical figure still venerated in many ways, yet representative of some truly hideous aspects of humanity, what with his extermination and enslavement of the indigenous people his exploratory parties met via and all.  

I propose that my beloved flower no longer be called upon by the namesake of this gruesome dude. And while Tiger Lily is a fine replacement, I also propose that individuals develop their own names for the flowers they love. Yes, learn the “real” names for the sake of commonality with other humans, so that a voice can be given and comprehended of the things you love. But do some work and learn the story behind how what you love was named, and decide if this jams with a vision of a more just society or not. For me, my flower is taking hold the name Dog lily, or Lilium caninium in scientific speak.  

Where can a Corvallisite venture to see the Dog lily? Head towards the Coast Range or the western foothills of the Cascades. The North or East Ridge trails of Marys’ Peak (another interesting name worth exploring) will likely do the trick, as may the river-side trails of Cascadia State Park  

By Ari Blatt