I love lilies! They have such beautiful flowers and really come into their own in late November, hence I have chosen them for this month’s feature post. While there are many flowers, which contain the word ‘lily’ as part of their common name like Day Lilies Hemerocallis (first photo below) and Jacobean Lilies Sprekelia (second photo below), true lilies belong to the Liliaceae family and Lilium genus, which contains 80 to 100 species, all native to the temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. The only true lily we grow in our garden is the November or Christmas Lily, L. longiflorum, so I was keen to know more about the other varieties!Lilies come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colours and have been extensively hybridized over 4000 years, being one of our oldest cultivated plants and having thousands of cultivars. It is little wonder that it is so easy to get a bit confused and overwhelmed by the variety! Here is a brief rundown of their description; categorisation (species and hybrids); propagation and cultivation; history and mythology; and uses.Description:
Herbaceous perennial plants, their erect stems 2 to 6 feet (60cm to 1.8 metres) tall with narrow lance-shaped leaves, though some species are only 30 cm tall, while other exceed 2.5 metres.
Most of the cool temperate species are deciduous and dormant in Winter, but those species from climates with hot Summers and milder Winters, often lose their leaves for a short dormant period from late Summer to Autumn, resprouting a dwarf stem with a basal rosette of leaves from Autumn to Winter, which elongates as the weather warms up eg L. candidum and L. longiflorum. The stems of the latter are on the move with the warmer weather and longer day length in the photo below.Flowers are solitary or borne in racemes or umbels at the tip of the stem from late Spring through to late Autumn, their blooming times dependent on the variety, but most blooming from mid to late Summer (July and August in Europe).Each flower has 6 petal-like segments or tepals in a variety of shapes:
Trumpet or elongated tube (eg L. candidum; and L. longiflorum-see photo below);
Bowl (eg L. auratum);
Flat open cup, with or without recurved tepal tips; and
Tepals strongly recurved (eg. L. martagon).They face upwards, outwards or downwards (pendant) and have a huge colour range.
The seeds ripen in late Summer.
Lilies grow from underground naked scaly bulbs. Some North American species develop rhizomes with small bulblets at the base of the bulb and other species develop stolons.Categorisation
Lilies are divided into nine divisions, their photographs displayed on the following sites:
Another excellent link for hybrid lilies is: https://lilyflowerstore.com/fun-facts/about-hybrid-lilies/.
Division 1: Asiatic Hybrids
eg Tango; Forever Susan; Lollipop
Hybrids are derived from Asian species: L. tigrinum, L. cernuum, L. davidii, L. maximowiczii, L.x macultum, L. x hollandicum, L. amabile, L. pumilum, L. concolor, L. callosum, L. dauricum, L. lankongense, L. leichtlinii, L. pumilum, L. lancifolium, L. wilsonii and L. bulbiferum.
Straight stems 3 to 4 feet tall with a high bud count.
Blooms face up, out or down, depending on the parent species, and most are unscented.
Broadest colour range of all lilies: White, pink, plum, yellow, orange and red.
One of the earliest lilies to bloom from early to mid Summer with a long flowering period (up to one month).
Cold hardy. Grow in full sun to part shade. One of the easiest lilies to grow.
Very popular as a cut flower and potted plant.
Division 2: Martagon Hybrids
eg Turk’s Cap
Hybrids are derived from such species as L. martagon, L. hansonii, L. medeoloides, and L. tsingtauense.
They were first cultivated in The Netherlands in 1891, the first variety called ‘Marhan’ (L. x dalhansonii), resulting from a cross between pollen parent L. hansonii and L. martagon var. dalmaticum. They include the Backhouse hybrids (L. martagon x L. hansonii) from the late 20th century and the rare heritage Paisley hybrids (L. martagon var album x L. hansonii).
Tall slender stems (90 cm to 1.8 metres or 3 to 6 feet tall) with whorled broad leaves and many small (5 to 10 cm wide), dainty, nodding flowers (usually 12-24 flowers per stem, but can bear up to 50 flowers on a single stem from a single bulb), with strongly recurved thickish tepals, resembling a Turk’s Cap, from early to mid-Summer.
Their colours range from white and yellow to pink, lavender, light orange, deep dark red, spattered with freckles and spots, and the scent is only very slight or unpleasant, so it is not one for the house! Despite this fact, I would love to grow them in the garden!
Martagons do not typically grow well in hot, humid climates and much prefer cool weather and shade, so are excellent for the woodland garden. They are also excellent border plants. Highly disease-resistant, they like slightly alkaline, well-drained soil and good moisture. They can take a year to establish in a new garden. If you want to know more about growing Martagon lilies, read: http://www.da.lilies.org/articles/martagonlilies.pdf.
Division 3: Candidum Hybrids/ Euro-Caucasian
eg Madonna Lily, June Fragrance (L. candidum salonikae x L. monadelphum 1971)
Hybrids are derived from L. candidum, L. chalcedonicum, L. monadelphum, L. cernum, L. longiflorum and L. henryi.
This division includes very few entries, and they are not easily found in commerce. It includes one of the oldest known hybrids: L. testaceum (Nankeen Lily), a cross in the early 19th century between L. candidum and L. chalcedonicum.
Fragrant large white funnel-shaped blooms with a yellow base on 4 foot tall (1.2 metres) stems from late Spring to early Summer.
Division 4: American Hybrids
eg Tiger Lily
Hybrids are derived from L. columbianum and L. pardalinum (West coast); L. canadense, L. superbum and L.philadelphicum (East coast); L. michiganense (middle states) and L. grayi, L. michauxii, L. catesbaei and L. iridollae (south). Other North American species include: L. humboldtii, L kelloggii, and L. parryii.
Tall stately plants with flowers with reflexed tepals on curved pedicels, which bloom about the end of June and early July (mid Summer), although if they are planted south of Philadelphia, where the climate is warmer, they will bloom in late May to mid-June (late Spring).
They enjoy light dappled shade and can develop huge clumps in woodlands if left undisturbed.
The best known are the Bellingham hybrids, developed from a cross between Lilium humboldtii var. ocellatum, L. pardalinum and L. parryi.
Division 5: Longiflorum Hybrids
eg Easter Lily, November Lily or Christmas Lily
Hybrids are derived from L. longiflorum and L. formosanum, both native to Japan and Taiwan.
These hybrids bear elegant large pure white trumpet-shaped flowers.
They are easily raised from seed, but not particularly hardy in the garden and need a protected position.Division 6: Trumpet or Aurelian Hybrids
eg Henry’s Lily; Regal Lily; African Queen
Hybrids are derived from L. leucanthum, L. regale, L. sargentiae, L. sulphureum, and L. henryi.
There are two types:
Trumpets: tall stately plants bearing huge waxy trumpets with a heavy sweet fragrance and a colour range from white, gold and yellow to pink, plum and apricot with maroon on the outside of the trumpet in mid-Summer. They can be upward-facing, outward facing or downward facing. eg Regal Lily…and the
Aurelians, resulting from the introduction of the hardy L. henryi to the mix and producing a plant with 5 foot tall willowy stems bearing secondary and tertiary buds over a long season from mid to late Summer. The buds open to wide bowls with flared petals, sunbursts, stars and flares.
Trumpets and Aurelians may need staking to prevent the heavy flower heads breaking in the wind and mulching in colder climates, as they are not frost tolerant.
Division 7: Oriental Hybrids
eg Stargazer, Casablanca
Hybrids are derived from L. auratum, L. speciosum, L. nobilissimum, L. rubellum, L. alexandrae, and L. japonicum.
They are stronger, more resistant and often more spectacular than their species parents. The plants are 5 foot high and bloom from late Summer to Autumn with huge (6-8 inch) bowl-shaped, flat or reflexed flowers, which face upward, outward or downward and have rich colours (white, pink,and red with yellow banded petals and striking spots) and strong fragrance, making them very popular as cut flowers.
They are not as east to grow as the Trumpets and Aureliums, but like plenty of water, an acidic humus rich soil and mulch for a cool root run.
Division 8: Interdivisional Hybrids
LA hybrids are the result of crossing L. longiflorum (the Easter lily) with Asiatic varieties. Most of such crosses on the market have larger flowers (4 to 7 inches across), a very slight fragrance and hardiness. Eg Brindisi. See: http://www.lilynook.mb.ca/LA_Hybrids.html and http://www.bdlilies.com/long.html.
OT hybrids or Orienpets involve crossing Oriental lilies (beauty and fragrance) with Trumpet/Aurelian lilies (robustness and adaptability; heat tolerance; and range of colours). They can be incredibly beautiful, robust and durable plants, 6.5 to 8 feet tall with many large heavily scented flowers (6 to 10 inches), which face upwards and outwards eg ‘Black Beauty’ ; ‘Leslie Woodriff’; ‘Scheherazade’; and ‘Starburst Sensation.’
OA hybrids are derived from crossing Orientals with Asiatics. Eg Kaveri. See: https://blog.longfield-gardens.com/new-for-2015-the-first-oriental-asiatic-lily-hybrid/.
LO hybrids are produced from a cross between L. longiflorum and one or more Oriental Hybrids. They have large (6 to 10 inch) fragrant outward facing trumpets with curved tepals. Eg Pink Heaven. See: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=271494&isprofile=0&.
Division 9: Species Liliums
Species lilies are wild lilies, the parents of all the lily hybrids in our gardens and hailing from temperate areas in North America, Europe, and especially Asia (Japan, China, Burma, and India). They propagate from seed, but are often harder to grow in the garden than the hybrids.
To learn more about some of these species lilies, see:
Other excellent sites for information on Liliums in general include:
The North American Lily Society http://www.lilies.org/culture/types-of-lilies/;
The RHS Lily Group http://www.rhslilygroup.org/;
and the Europaische Liliengesellschaft (European Lily Society), written in German, though their links page http://www.liliengesellschaft.org/links/ is particularly useful, listing a large number of other lily societies worldwide.
Here in Australia, some good sources for Lilium bulbs include:
Club Creek Bulb Farm http://clubcreekbulbfarm.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/cat-2018-lilium-email-version.pdf in Victoria and
Van Diemen Quality Bulbs https://www.vdqbulbs.com.au in Tasmania.Propagation and Cultivation
Lilies can be planted in beds and herbaceous borders (photo above); shrub borders; woodland plantings; formalised or natural pool plantings and alpine rock gardens and make excellent accent plants and patio plants.
They love cool climates, but the amount of sun or shade is dependent on the variety. The general advice concerning lily position is: ‘Heads in the sun; Feet in the shade’. Ideally, they should get direct sun all morning with partial shade on hot Summer afternoons. They love a north-facing aspect in the Southern Hemisphere. Blooms with pastel shades do better in partial shade, so they don’t bleach or fade with the sun.
Lilies like a porous loamy lime-free or moderately acidic soil (pH 6.5), but clay or sandy soils can be improved with large amounts of organic matter. Good drainage is ESSENTIAL.
They can be grown from seed eg Longiflorum hybrids, but take up to 4 years to bloom, so they are more often planted as bulbs in Spring or Autumn. Do not plant dry or shrivelled bulbs and on their arrival, plant immediately 12 to 18 inches apart at a depth of twice the height of the bulb, except for L. candidum, which is best planted in late Summer and should barely be covered with soil.
Water deeply and apply a 3 inch layer of organic mulch around the plants to conserve moisture and keep the roots cool. This mulch layer can be removed in Autumn.
A balanced fertiliser (low in nitrogen) can be applied every few weeks during the growing season.
Stake long stems with heavy flowerheads or grow them amongst shorter flowers for support. Remove seedpods as they appear and yellowing stems and foliage.
Really lilies are very easy to grow, except for species lilies and some of the American hybrids. My L.longiflorum plants receive minimal care and bounce back every season!
History and Mythology
Lilies have been cultivated for over 4000 years and have an extensive history and mythology. The Madonna Lily L. candidum was used in Asia Minor as a medicinal ointment and food in 2000 BC and artefacts depicting it have been found in ancient ruins in Mesopotamia, as well as Knossos, Crete and mainland Greece. In Greek mythology, the lily was the symbol of the goddess Hera and represented purity, innocence and refined beauty and was used for ornamental and medicinal uses, a practice continued by the Ancient Romans.
During the Middle Ages, it was also a symbol of purity and often depicted with the Virgin Mary in artworks. In the Victorian Language of Flowers, lilies represented love, ardour and affection. The Easter Lily L.longiflorum is a symbol of the resurrection of Christ, while the Orange Lily, L. bulbiferum is, not unsurprisingly, a symbol of the Orange Order in Northern Ireland.
Colour also dictates lily symbolism. While white lilies are a symbol of modesty and virginity, yellow lilies represent gaiety and orange lilies passion, happiness, warmth and love.Uses
Lilies are supposedly the fourth most popular flower in the world and are used extensively for funerals, representing the restoration of the soul of the deceased to a state of innocence, while the Easter Lily L. longiflorum dominates the Easter trade. Other popular lilies for floristry include: L. auratum; L. canadense; L. speciosum; and Oriental hybrids, Stargazer and Casablanca.
Be aware that some lily fragrances are so strong that they are best avoided in closed hospital rooms; some lilium species like L. longiflorum are toxic to cats, causing acute renal failure; and dropped pollen can cause gold stains on white clothing.
Lilies should be harvested when the lower bulbs are showing colour, but are not yet open. Stems should have plenty of buds. Remove the bottom leaves and cut the bottom of the stem at a 45 degree angle, adding floral preservative to the water. Change the water every few days.
Lily plants also make attractive gift pots.Food
While lilies are the food plant for some Lepidoptera larvae, including the Dun-bar, humans have also been consuming their starchy roots for years, especially in China, Japan and North America. Edible species include: L. bulbiferum; L. lancifolium; L. auratum; L. leichtinii; L. pardalinum; L. pumilum; L. davidii; L. brownii; L. canadense and L. columbianum.Medicine
Lilies have also been used for their medicinal properties, including:
Madonna Lily L. candidum: Astringent and demulcent;
Turks Cap L. martagon: Diuretic; emollient; emmenagogue; and expectorant properties and for heart disease and cardiac pain;
L. japonicum: for respiratory conditions; and
L. henryii, which relieves congestion and was used to treat nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.
Lily oil has healing and softening effects, can be used for massage, as a hot oil treatment or in or after a bath, and is particularly good for sensitive or baby skin; dry cuticles and elbows and as a facial moisturizer and under-eye oil.I learnt so much about lilies through my research for this post and am now keen to trying growing some of the species lilies, including the Turk’s Cap lilies. Our lilies have been a little later this year, their buds not yet open. Maybe, they will be in another week, when I am posting an update on our late Spring Garden. What a visual and olfactory treat it has been! And there is a surprise in store…the next phase of our Candelo Blooms adventure! See you then!