Common Name: Canada or Meadow Lily, Canada Martagon
Description: Hardy, Eastern North American, mid-summer flowering bulb; broadly trumpet shaped, yellow to yellow-orange flowers with rich, maroon-red spots in the center
Size: Flower stem grows 3 to 5 feet
Cultural Information: Prefers sun to part shade; moist, humus-rich loam
USDA Zones: 2 through 7
Historical Notes: This strikingly beautiful native lily was introduced to Europe in 1620. While living in Paris in 1786, Jefferson wrote to Philadelphia nurseryman John Bartram, requesting plants of "Lilium Canadense,"1 and Bartram's 1783 broadside included "Lillium martagon."
Jefferson bought some seeds of Lilium canadense, among other plants, from James Lee & Co. near London on April 26, 1786, and presented some or perhaps all of the seeds to French statesman Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes.2
Bernard McMahon, also from Philadelphia, listed "Canada Martagon Lily" in his book, The American Gardener's Calendar, 1806,3 and early 19th-century gardener Jean Skipwith grew the "spotted Canada Martagon lily" at her southern Virginia home, Prestwould.
- Peggy Cornet, n.d.; additions by Anna Berkes, 8/15/13
1809 December 29. (Jefferson to Ann C. Bankhead). "à propos of plants, make a thousand acknolegements in my name & with my respects to mrs Bankhead for the favor proposed of the Cape Jessamine. it will be cherished with all the possible attentions: and in return proffer her Calycanthuses, Paccans, Silk trees, Canada martagons or any thing else we have."4
1. Jefferson to Bartram, January 27, 1786, in PTJ, 9:228-30. Transcription available at Founders Online.
2.MB, 1: (transcription available at Founders Online); Jefferson to Malesherbes, May 5, 1786, in PTJ, 9:452-53 (transcription available at Founders Online). For the itemized invoice of Jefferson's purchases from James Lee & Co., see Betts, Garden Book, 115.