BLESSINGS IN BLOOM: The Easter Lily
By Kerry Peetz
It’s that time of year, Easter is finally here! A fresh sense of hope, renewal and springtime is in the air. It is a holy time for Christians as we celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the promise that he will come again. Our churches are filled with prayers, priests, parishioners, and the perfumed scent of the Easter lily.
Of course, there is always a good story behind how plants come to our country and we have the famous plant explorer Carl Peter Thunberg and a soldier named Louis Houghton to thank for its arrival.
In 1777 Thunberg discovered the plants that are native to the Ryukyu islands of southern Japan. He sent them to England in 1819 and missionaries and sailors carried them on to Bermuda in 1853. Bermuda was booming with commercial bulb production in the late 1800’s, hence the name Bermuda lily. A virus wiped out the crop in 1898 and production moved to Japan where it continued until World War II.
As it relates to the United States, it is written that in the year of our Lord 1919, Louis Houghton brought a suitcase full of hybrid lily bulbs to the southern coast of Oregon and gave them to family and friends to plant. No one really knows how he came about these bulbs but the climate where he gifted these gems was absolutely perfect for growing this lily.
Today, growers, most located along the California-Oregon border, in an area known as the “Easter Lily Capital of the World,” produce 95 percent of all bulbs grown in the world for the potted Easter lily market. They produce almost 12 million bulbs, shipping them to commercial greenhouses in the U.S. and Canada. Easter lilies are the fourth largest crop in wholesale value in the U.S. potted plant market, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Poinsettias, mums and azaleas, rank first, second and third.
When buying a lily, look for a plant with flowers in various stages of bloom from buds to open or partially opened flowers. Foliage should be dense, rich green in color, and extend all the way down to the soil line. This is a good sign that a healthy root system is present. Look for a well-proportioned plant, one about two times as high as the pot. You also should check the flowers, foliage and buds for signs of insects and disease.
At home, keep your lily away from drafts and drying heat sources such as the stove or heating vents. Bright, indirect light is best with daytime/nighttime temperatures between 60 and 68° F. Water the plant only when the soil feels dry to the touch, but do not overwater. Another tip to prolong bloom time, is removing the yellow pollen bearing anthers (male part) located in the center of each flower. Cut them off with a pair of garden scissors or twist and pull them off with your fingers. This will not have any effect on the scent.
In our diocese Easter lilies can be replanted outside after the blooms are gone. Plant them outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked. Select a sunny site with well-drained soil. Set the top of the bulb six-inches below the soil surface. Cut off the old flowers but leave the stem and leaves. Do not cut back the stem until it dies down in the fall, then cut it off at the soil surface. After the soil surface freezes in late fall, mulch the soil and do not remove the mulch until new growth begins in the spring.
“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
(Kerry Peetz is a master gardener and a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs.)