EASTER LILY...Sweet fragrance of spring

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April 11, 2022 by Sue Ercolini - Views: 214

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EASTER LILY...Sweet fragrance of spring

During Easter season, when you walk into a store, you are suddenly aware of a strong, sweet fragrance from a display of your favorite spring flowers like daffodils, tulips, daisies, hyacinths, pansies and Easter lilies.  It reminds us that not only is Easter a celebration of rebirth, but when we start to see the first signs of life in our gardens.  A time when flowers begin to bloom, and animals give birth to their young...nature's miracles of spring.   And Easter lilies, Latin name Lilium longiflorum, are the perfect symbol to mark the beginning of the spring season. The lily flower symbolizes purity, virtue, innocence, hope and life...the spiritual essence of Easter.


The origin of the Easter Lily, native to the southern islands of Japan, was discovered by the famous plant explorer Carl Peter Thunberg in 1777 who sent the bulb to England in 1819.  In 1853 a Japanese missionary gave it to a friend in St. George, Bermuda who later marketed it there.  Much of the commercial bulb production was in Bermuda during the late 1800’s, hence its other name Bermuda lily.  When a virus destroyed Bermuda’s crop in 1898, production moved to Japan where it continued until the outbreak of WWII.  Easter lilies came to the United States following WWI by way of a soldier named Louis Houghton who had a suitcase full of lily bulbs.  He gave them out to his horticultural friends in Oregon, and soon enough, the area along the California-Oregon border with its prime growing conditions for the lily, became known as the Easter Lily Japanese source of bulbs was cut off.  As a result, the value of lily bulbs greatly increased and many people who were growing them as a hobby went into business.  The Easter lily bulbs at that time were called ‘White Gold’ and growers everywhere attempted to cash in on the crop.  Around 1945, there were about 1,200 growers up and down the Pacific coast.  But over the years, the number of bulb producers diminished to just ten farms along an isolated coastal region on the Oregon-California border.  Soon Smith River, California, home to less than 900 residents, produced 95% of the world’s Easter lily bulbs.

Lilies themselves can be found mentioned prominently in the Bible.  When Eve left the Garden of Eden she shed tears of repentance, and from those tears sprung up lilies.  Often called the ‘white-robed apostles of hope’ lilies were also found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane after Christ’s crucifixion.  White lilies are said to have sprung up where drops of Christ’s blood fell to the ground from the cross.  This aromatic lily is mentioned at least 15 times in the Bible.  But probably the most famous is the verse beginning in Matthew 6:28, that includes, “Consider the lilies of the field…” from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  It became a common tradition to display these fragrant, trumpet-shaped lilies at Easter, calling it the Easter Lily.     

 One of the greatest challenges for the Easter lily producers is to get all the plants to bloom at the same time for Easter.  This is a very tricky process since Easter falls on a different day each year.  And since Easter is the first Sunday that follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox, Easter can be any day between March 22nd and April 25th.  About 12 million lily bulbs are harvested in the fall, packed, and shipped to commercial greenhouses in the United States and Canada where they are planted in pots and forced under controlled conditions to bloom at just the right time.  And the most widely grown today as the Easter lily is ‘Nellie White’ named after the wife of lily grower, James White.

As of this date, April 6th, it has been difficult for me to find Easter lilies to photograph for this article.  But Ingles in Powdersville just received 6 this morning.  So, I quickly purchased the two best with at least one open flower and lots of buds.  And since this article is due today, maybe, there was a little divine intervention!  The most important thing to do now is not to overwater your plant.  Remove the outer cover and cut off the yellow anthers to keep pollen from staining the flower and everything else.  Keep it in a sunny window with indirect light, away from dry heat, and just moist to the touch but not wet.  Keep away from cats because they are toxic to them! After the holidays, toss, give to a garden friend or move it outdoors after the last frost (see Internet for growing instructions).  

Over the years, spring flowers have taken on a special meaning for the holidays, especially the Easter lily.  They are a springtime mainstay in homes and churches across the world, and though named for a Christian holiday, the flowers embody a message of joy and hope that extends beyond faith.  Easter lilies are a pleasant reminder to all that spring has arrived, and nature’s cycle has begun once more.■

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