The Easter Lily
by Roger Corzine, Master Gardener
The Easter Lily, Lilium longiflorum, is one of those plants we specifically associate with a particular holiday in the same way as the Poinsettia with Christmas. This scientific name can be loosely translated as “long-flowered lily.” This flower is shaped like the bell of a trumpet in that it has a tubular body that flares into six petals like the bell of a trumpet. In the early 1900’s most of our lily bulbs came from Japan but that ended abruptly in 1941 with the Pearl Harbor attack. At present, most of our lily bulbs are produced in a small area of northern California and the adjoining area of Oregon . This geographic area has all the best of climatic and soil conditions that allow bulb growers to produce the multitude of bulbs necessary to supply the demand for Easter Lilies.
In selecting a plant to buy there are a couple of criteria to look for. The foliage should appear to be healthy and have a good, dark green color. The plant should not have any wilted or spent flowers. If the plant is in bloom only the first one or two buds should have opened. The remaining buds on the stem above the open flower should be in various stages of development and opening.
According to several sources, these beautiful white flowers have several religious associations particularly with Jesus and the Virgin Mary. There are old masters paintings showing the angel Gabriel offering Mary a stem of pure white lily flowers while telling her of the forthcoming birth of the baby Jesus. Another legend indicates that lilies once grew in the Garden of Gethsemane supposedly sprouting from the drops of sweat from Jesus’ brow as he prayed just prior to his crucifixion. There are several other mentions of Lilies in scripture.
These lilies can also be planted in your garden. The plant should be left in its pot and be given good care until it begins to show signs of aging. The stem should then be cut off about one or two inches above the bulb. Remove the bulb and soil that clings to its roots and plant it in a hole with the top of the bulb about two inches below ground level. Lightly pack the soil around it, water it and cover it with mulch for the winter and you could have lilies again come spring.