Easter lily, Lilium longiflorum, evolved in Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and maybe Taiwan. Formosan wild Lily, L. formosanum, is endemic to Taiwan. These lilies bear large, fragrant, white, trumpet-shaped flowers that face outward. Modern cultivated varieties are bred with different colors and patterns. Importation of Japanese-produced lily tubers stopped abruptly in 1941.
In 1919, World War I serviceman Louie Houghton brought a suitcase of Japanese lily bulbs (tubers) home and distributed them freely in a narrow coastal farmland strip between Harbor-Brookings and Smith River areas of Oregon’s Curry County and California’s Del Norte County. Ten farms in this specific climate now produce 95% of U.S. field-grown Easter Lily plants. Easter lilies mature after 3 to 5 years. Plants must be tended year-round. Millions of Easter Lily bulbs are harvested in the fall then shipped to commercial climate-controlled greenhouses and induced to flower in time for Easter.
Lilies have large six-segmented flowers. The six colorful petals or petaloid tepals are in two whorls of three and may be plain or patterned. There are six stamens and one ovary where seeds develop after pollination. Long, narrow lily leaves may cluster at the base or single linear leaves may alternate along a stem or be in whorls. Lily leaves have veins parallel to the edges.
Graceful Formosa Lily, Lilium formosanum, one of the tallest lilies in the garden, flowers in midsummer. Towering flower stalks may reach 5 feet. Bunches of long white flowers atop tall stalks nod downward. Flower trumpets are noticeably larger than Japanese L. longifolium. In Florida, Easter and Formosan Lilies tolerate summer rains, heat and humidity. They can be planted in humus-rich soil and part shade with 3 to 4 hours of morning sun. Afternoon shade protects them from Florida’s hot summer. If top growth freezes in winter, Easter Lilies should resprout and flower in May and Formosans should flower in mid-summer, July.
Last February, a trio of outdoor adventurer friends from downtown Miami visited me for a weekend and brought me a three-stemmed lily plant with dozens of unopened green flower bulbs. I was delighted and anticipated beautiful white flowers to remind me of their visit. But fun-loving Mexican Victor Vertiz, Spanish Christina Urquiola and Venezuelan Alba enjoy little jokes and surprises. Their lily flowers bloomed burgundy and pink. Their plant brightened my table for weeks. It now lives in the raised foundation bed on the east side of my home.
Lily plants are perennial, herbaceous (leafy and green) monocotyledon plants that often have bulblike underground storage structures. “Mono” means one and indicates that inside the lily seed there is an embryo with a single seed leaf called a cotyledon. To senior gardeners like me, the word “lily,” first described in 1789, is a catch-all term for many pretty flowering plants that have bulbs, tubers, corms or rhizomes. The internet now enables gardeners to be more precise with words.
According to www.britannica.com/plant, the Liliales order of flowering plants now has 11 families, 67 genera and 1,558 species. Many ornamental garden plants are members of the Liliales order. Within Liliales, the lily family (Liliaceae) has been recently redefined; it now has only 16 genera and about 610 species. Few government or university websites have sufficient funds to update their databases or keep up with modern molecular phylogenetic based science.
The US Department of Agriculture plant database profile for Lilium shows range maps of where 33 Lilium species can grow. Click on the name to pop up an image of each lily. Seven Lilium species can grow in Florida.
For complete history of the U.S. Easter Lily trade, see Texas A&M University’s Easter Lily Archives at https://tinyurl.com/t6eyfrmk.
According to www.theplantlist.org, the Lily family’s 16 genera are: Amana, Calochortus, Cardiocrinum, Erythronium, Fritillaria, Gagea, Lilium, Lloydia, Medeola, Nectaroscordum, Nomocharis, Notholirion, Prosartes, Scoliopus, Tulipa and Zygadenus. Okay, I am familiar with tulips and know they cannot tolerate Florida’s hot wet summers. Fritillary is the cut flower sold in bouquets. Lilium is the lily genus. The rest I have never heard of in everyday gardening.
Jane Weber is a professional gardener and consultant. Semi-retired, she grows thousands of native plants. Contact her at email@example.com or phone 352-249-6899.