The Bluebead Lily is a perennial and a member of the lily family. It is also known by the name yellow clintonia. It is a relatively small plant ranging in height from 5-10 inches. It grows in the mountains of northeastern and some central mountains of North America. It grows as far south a the mountain regions of North Carolina. There are some species that are closely related to the Bluebead Lily that have been found in parts of Asia and the southern Appalachians.
The Bluebead Lily flowers in May and June. It takes over twelve years for a clone to establish itself and grow its first flower. It takes two years just for the germination alone. The Bluebead Lily reproduces by means of seeds or vegetatively by rhizomes (a horizontal root stem or stalk).
Bluebead lilies are very slow to spread but once it is established it can usually survive for a long time, if it is kept in low sunlight. The Bluebead lily is sensitive to grazing by the White Tailed deer. The plant is colonial in nature. It is found in large colonies of green, shiny basal (located near the bottom of the plant) leaves.
The rhizome has a saponin (chemical compound) steroid called diosgenin that is used to produce a medicine that has estrognenic effects. The leaves are edible while they are still young. The fruit is not edible, being slightly toxic. it also has a very nasty taste. They look like blueberries but are not related.
Transplanting the Bluebead Lily is not a good idea. It is difficult because of the slow germination process of the plant and also because it cannot endure direct sunlight.
The berries of the Bluebead Lily stand out and are considered to be the most dramatic feature of the plant. They transition from green to white and finally to a deep porcelain blue.Standing on stalks that can reach 16 inches in height the colorful berry stands out against the browns and greens of the forest.
The Bluebead Lily is usually considered to be a northern hardwood species. It regularly grows along side the red trillium, Indian cucumber root, striped maple and hobble brush. The Bluebead Lily is sometimes confused with wild leeks or lady’s slipper. This unique lily is simply one of nature’s treasures that seems to serve no purpose other than food for the White Tailed deer and for all to enjoy its simple beauty.