Written By Martha A. Woodham
Come Easter morning on April 21, churches all over Coweta County will be adorned with beautiful flowers in celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many of these blooms will be the ethereal Easter lily—large, white, trumpet-shaped flowers, elegant and regal, set on dark green stalks.
It was two centuries ago when the now-popular Lilium longiflorum came to represent Easter. The Bible describes lilies growing in Palestine, but the large, white flower now known as the Easter lily didn’t become common in churches until the 1800s. Marketing Lilium longiflorum for Easter is a tradition found only in North America.
According to the Easter Lily Research Association, the bulbs are native to the Ryukyu Islands of southern Japan. During the 1800s, they were widely cultivated in Bermuda, which shipped bulbs to the United States.
When returning to Oregon after World War I in 1919, Louis Houghton smuggled a suitcase full of lily bulbs into the U.S. and gave them away to family and friends. After the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, sources of the Japanese bulbs were cut off and the value of lily bulbs skyrocketed. Oregonians who grew these lilies as a hobby went into business cultivating bulbs for the American market. By 1945, there were about 1,200 growers producing bulbs along the Pacific Coast.
Today, most Easter lily bulbs sold in North America are grown on 10 farms in northwestern California and southwestern Oregon, which has become known as the Easter Lily Capital of the World. Ninety-five percent of the more than 11 million Easter lilies grown in the U.S. come from this area.
Selecting an Easter Lily
First, a word of warning: Some Lilium species—especially L. longiflorum—are highly toxic to cats. Plant lovers with cats should not bring Easter lilies into their homes.
It’s tempting to buy a lily in full bloom, but delay your immediate gratification for long-term enjoyment. Consider these tips for choosing lilies that will last beyond the holiday season:
- Choose a plant two times as tall as the pot. A plant that has outgrown its pot will be stressed.
- Select a plant with flowers and buds in various stages of development, preferably from tight bud to partially opened flower.
- Make sure the foliage is a healthy green color and extends all the way down the stem to the soil line.
- Check that the plant has no signs of insects or disease.
- Be wary of Easter lilies displayed in paper, plastic or mesh sleeves, which will deteriorate the plant’s quality.
- Avoid waterlogged plants. A wilted plant could be a sign of root rot.
When You Get Your Lily Home
- Place the lily near a window that receives bright, indirect natural light.
- To prolong the life of each blossom, remove the yellow anthers before they begin to shed pollen.
- Protect your lily from drafts and heat sources. Cool daytime temps in the 60-65 degree range will prolong the life of the flowers.
- Water the lily only when soil is dry to the touch. Keep soil moist but not too wet. For proper drainage, remove the decorative foil around the pot.
- Remove flowers as they fade and wither.
Planting Lilies in Your Garden
Attempting to get an Easter lily to rebloom in its pot is usually unsuccessful. However, the plants can be replanted in your outdoor perennial flower bed in the spring as Easter lilies can be grown in Coweta County. Wait until the lily has finished blooming and the plant begins to die down.
- Pick a sunny garden spot with well-drained soil. Lilies like sunshine, but their roots should be kept cool with mulch.
- Remove any remaining flowers and browning leaves from the bulb. Set the top of the bulb three inches below the soil surface, mounding up an additional three inches of topsoil over it.
- If you have multiple bulbs, space them at least 12 to 18 inches apart.
- Water bulbs immediately and apply a two-inch layer of mulch.