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Easter Lily | The Season's Brightest Bloom

Easter Lily | The Season's Brightest Bloom

Photo courtesy of Powell Gardens.
Photo courtesy of Powell Gardens.

Our editor, Therese Ciesinski, on a seasonal favorite: the richly-scented, pale-trumpeted floral symbols of Easter.

Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Luke, 12:27)
Many of our major holidays have one or more flowers associated with them. Christmas has poinsettias, Thanksgiving, mums, Valentine’s Day, roses. Cynics might say that some of these flower-holiday pairings aren’t intuitive, but the result of clever marketing campaigns by the floral industry. The flower associated with Easter is different. The trumpet lily (Lilium longiflorum) has been a symbol of Easter, Jesus Christ, and the resurrection for centuries.
In Christian traditions, the Easter lily represents rebirth and redemption. Its trumpet-shaped blooms appear to be proclaiming the risen Lord. The dazzling white flowers represent purity and light after months of cold and darkness. And these lilies announce themselves with a heady fragrance, a reminder of the richness of life. Florists couldn’t have invented a more perfect plant to celebrate Easter, even if they had tried.
Photo courtesy of My Wonderful Life.
Photo courtesy of My Wonderful Life.

Lilium longiflorum are native to Japan. After WWI, an enterprising U.S. soldier brought some bulbs to his home in the Pacific Northwest. WWII stopped the supply of bulbs from Japan, once the largest provider of lily bulbs in the world. That’s how a small area straddling Oregon and California, where conditions are perfect for their growth, has become the place where 95 percent of the world’s Easter lilies start.
Lily bulbs take three to four years to mature. They are timed to bloom at a moving target, because Easter falls on the Sunday after first full moon after the vernal equinox, which can be any time between late March and late April. As the moon moves, so does the date of Easter Sunday. That means growers follow the moon.
With Easter falling on April 20 this year, this is the week to buy your Easter lily. Look for a sturdy plant, not too tall or floppy, with bright green leaves. For the longest period of enjoyment, buy a plant that has one or two open flowers, and lots of plump buds that will open in successive days.
To get the most from your Easter lily:
Cut the anthers off the flowers, so the yellow pollen doesn’t stain the flower or other surfaces.
Lilies don’t like soggy soil, so take the plastic or foil sleeve off the pot so water doesn’t collect at the bottom.
Keep the plant in bright, but not direct, light and cool – under 70 degrees – temperatures. As the flowers fade, trim them off.
The lilies you buy at the florist or supermarket have spent their lives indoors; they’ve been fed and groomed to give all they have in one glorious blast. That said, if you’ve given them good care inside, you can plant them outdoors after blooming. They won’t rebloom that summer, but with rich, moist, well-draining soil, regular feeding with an organic fertilizer, and lots of sun, your Easter lily will trumpet its message of hope and renewal next summer and for years to come.
Therese Ciesinski, Garden Variety’s Editor-at-Large, is the longtime former editor of Organic Gardening magazine. She has won multiple awards from the Garden Writers Association and has lectured across the U.S. on gardening, horticulture and living an organic lifestyle. A New York University graduate, Therese has been a master gardener in both Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. She lives in a little log cabin next to a trout stream in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, where she maintains a shade-shrouded garden. She loves roses but her sunlight-challenged property has left her trying to fall for hostas instead. She enjoys home renovation projects, travel and is a self-confessed “picker” who buys and sells antiques and vintage finds, especially industrial objects.
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  1. Crys Stewart
    April 15, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Lilies are amazing plants and a true harbinger of spring. I recently wrote about the pollen-less varieties on my blog. Once you’re hooked on Easter lilies, consider trying other exciting Asian and Double Orientals. Many are easy to grow in Southern Ontario.

  2. gardeningkiwi
    April 15, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Hi. I love these flowers – they smell amazing. We call them Christmas Lilies as they come out in time for Christmas here on NZ. They are just as perfect for our Christmas as they are for your Easter! Perfect timing!
    Cheers Sarah : o )

  3. thebikinggardener
    April 20, 2014 at 5:58 am

    White lilies are popular in the UK too but I think the ‘modern’ L. longiflorum is a substitute for the more traditional, European-native L. candidum which is the true Madonna lily that is associated with the Virgin Mary and is so often depicted with her in old paintings. Lilium candidum can be tricky to grow and is unlike most other species because it has a dormant period in summer and is evergreen in winter. It is also unusual in that it is not stem-rooting and needs to be planted on the soil surface and needs a sunny, hot spot. This makes it quite tricky to grow and to sell – the bulbs are only dormant in August (in the N hemisphere). Lilium longiflorum and its forms is also a much better commercial plant because, unlike most lilies, it grows fast from seed and will often flower in its first year, certainly in its second, making it a good commercial cut flower crop. The bulbs can also be cold stored to allow accurate timing of flowers.

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