Common alplily – Gagea serotina

Alaska Wildflowers | White

The white flowers of the common alplily (Gagea serotina, formerly Lloydia serotina) with greenish to white tepals and purple veins.

Common alplily

Lloydia serotina (ITIS accepted name)
Gagea serotina* (notes below)
Gagea serotina var. serotina (variety in Alaska)

Common Names

alplily
alpine lily
common alplily
snowdon lily

Synonyms


Lloydia serotina is a homotypic synonym of Gagea serotina according to VASCAN, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and others. Lloydia serotina is still the accepted name for this plant, according to ITIS (Integrated Taxonomic Identification System – USA). See more in taxon notes below.

Subspecies

Gagea serotina var. flava (not occurring in Alaska)
Gagea serotina var. serotina

Genus: Gagea
Family: Liliaceae
Order: Liliales
full classification

Taxon Notes – Lloydia or Gagea

Plant taxonomy is a continually evolving field, with changes often propelled by the latest scientific research. This dynamic nature is exemplified by the classification of Lloydia serotina, a plant that has been recognized as Gagea serotina by numerous taxonomists and botanical databases. As of January 2014, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families transitioned Lloydia serotina into the Gagea genus. This reclassification is also acknowledged by esteemed botanical institutions such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and VASCAN, further emphasizing the shift in scientific consensus.



The reclassification of Lloydia serotina to Gagea serotina is part of a larger taxonomic shift that has seen several species transition from the Lloydia genus to Gagea. While the specific reasoning behind this move isn’t explicitly documented (or at least not easy to find or access), such changes are typically driven by advances in genetic research, morphological studies, or new scientific evidence suggesting a more accurate classification.

It’s crucial to acknowledge that the speed and manner in which these taxonomic updates are reflected can vary across different botanical databases, often due to differing taxonomic perspectives. This variation leads to inconsistencies in the scientific names assigned to plants across diverse sources. For example, while the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, acknowledges Gagea serotina, other North American floras, and databases like ITIS continue to reference the plant as Lloydia serotina. Although I usually adhere to ITIS-accepted scientific names in my guides for the sake of consistency, in this case, I’ve deviated from the norm. The global shift towards recognizing Gagea serotina in a majority of botanical databases and floras suggests an impending acceptance of the reclassification, providing compelling justification for this exception in my guide.

Despite these differences in nomenclature, the plant itself remains the same.

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Forb/herb

Identification and Information

Gagea serotina, commonly known as the common alplily or snowdon lily, is a perennial herb that grows from a small, oblong, greyish, fibrous-coated bulb situated at the end of a rhizome. Its slender, smooth stems typically stand 4-15 cm tall. The leaves are slightly dimorphic (two different forms). The basal leaves are numerous, linear, grass-like, somewhat fleshy, and smooth in texture, measuring 2-10 (up to 15) cm long and about 1 mm wide. In contrast, the 2 to 4 cauline leaves (on the stem) are lanceolate in shape and reduced in size upward, ranging from 1-4 cm in length and 1-2 mm in width.

The inflorescence consists of one or rarely two erect to nodding flowers sitting atop the stem. Each creamy-white and broadly top-shaped flower measures 8-13 mm long and is often tinged with rose on the outside. Its unique appearance is accentuated by distinct veins that are either purple or green. The flowers consist of six similar, oblong, or broadly lanceolate tepals. There are six stamens and one three-chambered pistil. Following the flowering phase, the plant produces egg-shaped capsules as fruits. These capsules measure 6-8 mm long and are filled with numerous crescent-shaped and flattened seeds.

Among the two subspecies, Gagea serotina var. serotina is the only one found in Alaska. The Flora of North America describes it as the typical arctic-alpine variety, characterized by a white perianth and greenish to purplish veins. The Flora of British Columbia further details that the basal leaves of this variety are often shorter than the flowering stems – a trait that distinguishes it from the parent species, in which the leaves may frequently be taller. The photos included in my guide, taken from Mt. Margaret in Denali National Park, are of this variety, Gagea serotina var. serotina.

Uses

For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

I found no food or medicinal uses for Gagea serotina or its subspecies. While it’s important to bear in mind that numerous plants within the Liliaceae family are known for their toxicity, with many even being fatally harmful to cats in small quantities, specific information regarding the toxicity of this species is unavailable. It’s worth noting that Gagea serotina is frequently grazed upon by farm animals in Europe, and there are no known issues related to this consumption.


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Distribution and Habitat

The Common Alplily is broadly distributed across the northern hemisphere. It thrives predominantly in western and central Asia, the Alps region of Europe, and western North America, including Alaska. In the UK, however, its presence is limited to a handful of areas that are inaccessible to grazing animals and less likely to be disturbed by human foot traffic. As such, it is considered one of Britain’s most endangered plants. Notably, the plant has a significant presence in Snowdonia National Park, from which it derives the name ‘Snowdon Lily.’

As an alpine species, Gagea serotina favors rocky slopes, gravelly meadows, and rock crevices, typically inhabiting both the upper subalpine and alpine zones.

Classification

RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
SubkingdomViridiplantae (green plants)
InfrakingdomStreptophyta (land plants)
SuperdivisionEmbryophyta 
DivisionTracheophyta (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
SubdivisionSpermatophytina (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
ClassMagnoliopsida 
SuperorderLilianae (monocots, monocotyledons, monocotylédones)
OrderLiliales 
FamilyLiliaceae
GenusGagea
Lloydia Salisb. [see taxon notes above]
SpeciesGagea serotina
Lloydia serotina [synonym] (alplily, alpine lily, common alplily)
 Direct Children:
      VarietyGagea serotina var. flava (alp lily, alpine lily)
      VarietyGagea serotina var. serotina (common alplily)

References and Further Reading

Guidebook

Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg. 50

Classification and Taxonomy

Lloydia serotina (L.) Salisb. ex Rchb. Taxonomic Serial No.: 42750, ITIS Database

Gagea serotina (Linnaeus) Ker Gawler, Canadensys (VASCAN)

Uses

no sources found – although mentioned in First Nature under Description and Information

Map and Distribution

Gagea serotina (L.) Ker Gawl., GBIF

Lloydia serotina Common Alpine-lily, NatureServe Explorer

Description and Information

Lloydia serotina (Linnaeus) Salisbury ex Reichenbach Fl. Germ. Excurs., 102. 1830., Flora of North America

Lloydia serotina var. serotina, Flora of North America

Lloydia serotina, Flora of British Columbia

Gagea (formerly Lloydia) serotina – Snowdon Lily, First Nature

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