Article image

Japanese lily species discovered after more than a century

For the first time in over a century, a new species of Japanese lily, known locally as sukashiyuri, has been identified by Dr. Seita Watanabe and his team from the Botanical Gardens and the Graduate School of Science at Osaka Metropolitan University

This discovery marks the first addition to the sukashiyuri species list since 1914, challenging these visually striking flowers’ traditional classifications.

Japanese lily species diversity 

Previously, sukashiyuri, typically recognized for their vibrant orange blossoms, were grouped into four taxonomic categories. These lilies are highly prized for ornamental use and have been a popular export from Japan for over two centuries. 

However, Watanabe believed that the existing classification did not accurately reflect the diversity within the species. To investigate this hypothesis, he and his research team embarked on a detailed exploration across Japan.

New Japanese lily species 

The team’s journey involved observing the lilies in their natural habitats, capturing images, collecting specimens, and extracting DNA from the plants for analysis. Through meticulous examination of both the physical form and genetic makeup of these lilies, the researchers have expanded the classification to include eight distinct taxons. 

Among these, they identified a new species named Lilium pacificum, which thrives along the Pacific coastlines from Ibaraki Prefecture in the north to Shizuoka Prefecture and the Izu Islands in the south.

Unique traits and adaptations 

“It has an interesting characteristic: the tips of its leaves are curved into a claw-like shape,” Watanabe explained. “Based on the new understanding of these eight taxonomic groups, we found that seven are endemic to Japan, each adapted to its environment, whether coastal or mountainous, and evolving unique traits.”

“Our research shows that these plants have differentiated through complex processes, and we hope that our work will provide clues for speciation studies. In the past, individual differences may have been overlooked because of the apparent simplicity of the plants. Through this research, I was reminded of the importance of morphological observation.”

This breakthrough not only enriches our understanding of the biodiversity within the sukashiyuri lilies but also underscores the significance of detailed taxonomic research in uncovering the hidden complexities of plant evolution and adaptation.

 Japanese lilies

Japanese lilies are renowned for their beauty and variety, featuring prominently in both cultivation and cultural symbolism in Japan. 

One of the most iconic species is the Lilium auratum, often called the “golden-rayed lily of Japan,” which is celebrated for its large, fragrant white flowers that have golden rays and speckled burgundy markings. Another important species is Lilium speciosum, or the “Japanese lily,” which is admired for its striking pink to red petals and heavy scent.

Lilium japonicum, also known as “Yamayuri,” is native to the cool mountain regions of Japan and bears elegant, trumpet-shaped flowers. This species tends to thrive in forest environments. The red spider lily, Lycoris radiata, is another visually striking species, famous for its red flowers that bloom in late summer and early autumn, often associated with the end of the Buddhist Bon Festival.

These lilies not only contribute to the biodiversity of Japan’s flora but also hold significant places in Japanese gardening and festival celebrations, embodying themes of purity, renewal, and transition.

Flowers in Japanese culture 

Flowers hold a profound significance in Japanese culture, permeating various aspects of life, art, and rituals with a deep-rooted symbolism and aesthetic importance. The appreciation of flowers is so integral that it has its own traditional practice known as “hanami,” which is the seasonal viewing of flowers, primarily cherry blossoms. 

This practice is not just about enjoying the transient beauty of blooms but also reflects deeper themes of impermanence and the graceful acceptance of life and death cycles, as symbolized by the brief yet spectacular blooming period of the sakura.

Floral motifs are prevalent in Japanese art and design, including kimono fabrics, ceramics, and classical paintings. These motifs often carry symbolic meanings; for example, the cherry blossom represents beauty and the ephemeral nature of life, while the plum blossom stands for perseverance and renewal, often blooming vibrantly even in cold winter.

In the realm of traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, flowers play a subtle yet essential role, where they are carefully chosen to complement the season and setting, enhancing the spiritual and aesthetic experience. This practice underscores the Japanese philosophy of harmony between nature and human-made beauty.

The study is published in the journal Taxon.

Image Credit: Osaka Metropolitan University


Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and


News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day