Many churches and formal dining rooms will be decorated with a plant that has white trumpet-shaped flowers that are as much a symbol of Easter as chocolate bunnies and Easter egg hunts. The plant that I mention is the Easter lily or Lilium longifloram.
This lily is native to the Ryukyu Islands of southern Japan. During World War I, Louis Houghten found these beautiful flowers and decided to bring some of the hybrid bulbs home in a suitcase. In 1919, these bulbs arrived on the south coast of Oregon and shared with Mr. Houghten neighbors. These bulbs continued to be grown in this area for the enjoyment of those in the area.
World War II, not only caused a nation to go into turmoil but also cut off the supply of the Easter lily from Japan. This shortage started an entrepreneurship across the Oregon with those who originally received bulbs from Louis Houghten. Many hopes and dreams were believed through the production of the Easter lily or what it became known as “White Gold.”
Throughout the years, Easter lily producers have been reduced to ten growers. These producers exist on the Oregon-California border and the region has become known as the Easter Lily Capital. After the war, bulbs began to be shipped back into the United States from Japan but the quality was never as good as the U.S. produced bulbs.
The Easter lily that is found in many different locations for purchase has been growing for three to four years before arriving at commercial greenhouses. This Easter lily’s journey starts out as a bulblet attached to its mother plant. When the mother plant is harvested the bulblet is removed and planted in a separate field. A year later, the bulblet or yearling is dug up and replanted in another field. It remains in this field for one year.
These bulbs are then dug up during late September and early October. They are then shipped to commercial greenhouses where they will be prepared for the Easter season.
The lily has been chosen to represent the Easter season due to its religious symbolism. The beautiful white color symbolizes purity, virtue, innocence, hope, and life. The beauty of this plant can be a disappointment if the right plant is not chosen. Easter lilies are known for their forma and fragrance. Pick medium to compact size plants that look good all the way around and are proportional in size. They should not be too tall or too short.
Also blooms should be looked at before deciding on a plant. A good choice is a plant that has several blooms in different stages of development. Plants with one or two open or partly open blooms and three or more blooms in different stage of bloom are the best for a long-term enjoyment.
The foliage of the Easter lily should be very abundant and dark green. The leaves should be thick and dense all the way down the stem.
As flowers mature, remove the yellow anthers before pollen starts to shed. This will help the flower last longer and prevent the bloom from being stained with the pollen. Once the flower matures and dies, cut off the flower from the stem. This will help the Easter lily keep its neat appearance.
When the lily is brought home, remove the plant from the paper, plastic or mesh sleeves. Place in a room that is kept between 60F to 65F degrees. Do not place in areas of drafts or near heat sources such as fireplaces, appliances, and heating ducts. Lilies love to sit near a window that receives bright, indirect natural light.
Easter lilies like to be in moist, well-drained soil. When the gardener goes to water the lily, first check the soil moisture with ones finger. If the soil feels dry, remove the plant from any decorative pot or cover and take to the sink to water. Begin to water the lily until water starts coming out the bottom of the pot. Let the pot set until water stops draining out and the plant has a chance to dry. Then return the plant to its decorative pot or cover.
After the plant has stopped blooming, move it to a sunny location and continue to water it. Every six weeks, add one teaspoon of slow-release fertilizer to the water and water in the lily. Once the local frost-free date has passed, move the lily and its container outdoors.
To plant outdoors, prepare the garden bed by adding one part soil, one part peat moss and one part perlite. Once this mixture is added to the bed, dig a three-inch hole and place the bulb in the hole. Spread roots out in the hole and fill in the hole with the soil mixture. Mound an additional three inches of soil on top of the bulb. Cover the area with mulch or create living mulch. This living mulch consists of a low ground cover of shallow-rooted annuals or perennials. An example of this concept is an Easter lily planted with primulas or violas.
After planting in the ground, the plant will begin to die back. When this occurs, cut the stem back until it is level with the soil. New growth will appear in the spring and the Easter lily will bloom in the summer with a second bloom possible in late summer.
With a little additional care, the Easter lily can provide beauty now and for many years to come.