Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Easter Lily

Lilium longiflorum, better known as the Easter Lily gained its popularity at Easter from American protestants in the early 1800s.  Native  to the Ryukyu Islands of southern Japan, the beautiful trumpet-shaped and fragrant white flowers symbolize purity, virtue, innocence, hope and life - the spiritual essence of Easter.

In the 1880s, while in Bermuda, Ms. Thomas P Sargent became familiar with a beautiful lily that blooms naturally in springtime. She fell for this lovely white 'Bermuda' lily and brought its bulbs with her back to her Philadelphia  home. There, a nursery man, William Harris, fostered its popularity among other florists.  At this time, most bulbs were imported from Bermuda.

Around the turn of the century, the Japanese took over the main production of the Easter Lily bulb market and its exportation to the US.  They remained the major world wide supplier of the bulbs until the start of World War II.  When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the supply of Easter Lilys was cut off. 

In America, the plants became known as “white gold” and many farms along the west coast began to grow them.  However, it was very hard to produce consistent quality of bulbs year after year as the plants required specific soil and climatic.  Eventually, just ten farms in the northern California/southern Oregon region became the sole producers of Easter Lilys for the entire country.

“The commercial bulbs are shipped to greenhouse growers throughout the United States and Canada who force the plants under controlled conditions to flower in time for Easter. This is a very tricky process since Easter falls on a different day each year, dependent upon celestial bodies. The first Sunday that follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox, Easter can be any day between March 22 and April 25. Crop scheduling and timing is critical - another reason why the bulbs have to be of such a consistent high quality with reliable vigor and performance. The flowers must bloom exactly when they're supposed to, with no margin for error.

“Still today, the Easter Lily remains the traditional, time-honored flower of Easter. Symbolic of a resurrection, Easter Lilies rise from earthy graves as scaly bulbs, and bloom into majestic flowers that embody the beauty, grace and tranquillity of the special region from which they originate.

I think the best thing about Easter Lilys is that once the plants have bloomed, they may be transplanted to your garden where they will continue to bloom each year!  Here in North Carolina where I live, they thrive! 

To plant your Easter Lilies outside, prepare a well-drained garden bed in a sunny location with rich, organic matter. Use a well-drained planting mix, or a mix of one part soil, one part peat moss and one part perlite. Good drainage is the key for success with lilies. To ensure adequate drainage, raise the garden bed by adding good soil to the top of the bed, thus obtaining a deeper topsoil and a rise to the planting area.

Plant the Easter Lily bulbs 3 inches below grade and mound up an additional 3 inches of topsoil over the bulb. Plant bulbs at least 12 to 18 inches apart. Spread the roots out and backfill the hole.  Tamp the soil lightly to ensure that no air pockets are left.  Water in immediately and thoroughly after planting.   As the original plants die back, cut the stems back to the soil surface. New growth will soon emerge.  Finally, it is important to remember that lilys like cool or shady feet and sunny tops.  Therefore, add a layer of mulch around the base of your plants.

Although commercial Easter Lilys are forced to bloom in March, they typically will bloom in early summer when planted out of doors. 

To learn more about the history and tradition of the Easter Lily, and how to grow them, go Here.   Happy Easter!


  1. I just received a beautiful potted Easter Lily, and would like to transplant it to my garden on the East side of my house in a small garden bed I have there. Do you think it will survive the winters in zone 5(Northwest Indiana)with a good covering such a mulch?
    Thank You
    Gail Nordyke

  2. Very nice article, Pam! Since my daughter gave me one, I may have to try my hand at planting it! Wish me luck!

  3. Wonderful post Pam! I'm a Northern Californian and did not know we were so crucial to the bulb supply.

  4. I work in a catholic hospital as a nurse in the recovery room, we are located across from the chapel which was full of easter lillies this year. The lillies are now wilted and the flowers are gone....there are 50 plants,,, can these be planted outside? The hospital has money issues and I would like to plant them for them outside.

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  6. Lilium longiflorum is hardy in the ground as a perennial in USDA Hardiness zones 6 through 9 only. A heavy winter mulch MAY allow the bulbs to survive a mild winter in Zone 5, but don't plan on it.


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