Friday, March 25, 2016

Almost as Prolific as Poinsettias

I’ve not heard any mention of Lilium longiflorum this week. No signs in stores, not a comment around the water cooler, although the advent of bottled water has curtailed most daily conversations in the workplace. No wonder everyone is on Facebook. Stop drinking alone, I say. Talk to people.

I digress. Lilium longiflorum is everywhere, but no one calls it that, and rightly so or it might not sell as well as it does. Besides, speaking in botanical terms does tend to disperse groups rather quickly.

Lilium longiflorum is the Easter lily and it’s everywhere. The plant became associated with Easter a little over a hundred years ago after a Ms. Thomas Sargent visited Bermuda

Apparently she loved the plants so much she stuffed a few bulbs into her luggage before returning to her home in Philadelphia. You could do that then, before border controls, drug enforcement agencies, and homeland security complicated travel.

After a local nurseryman forced the bulbs into bloom in time for Easter, the idea of a plant symbolizing Christ's Resurrection took off. If you’re wondering what Ms. Sargent was doing in Bermuda, and if she was regularly smuggling other items back to the US, I’ve no idea — but I do know why she found lilies growing there.

The plant is native to southern Japan and was living happily on the Ryukyu islands until plant hunter Carl Peter Thunberg sent a few to England in 1819 where it became popular. From there it made its way to Bermuda where the climate suited the plant perfectly — and the British too, no doubt. They began growing the plant as a cash crop and everyone was happy until 1898 when a sneaky virus wiped out bulb production. Japan stepped in, since it was their plant originally, and took over the industry until World War II messed up the market and everything else in the world.

At that point, anyone growing the plants for fun in North America quickly realized they’d been handed an opportunity when the price of bulbs skyrocketed. Bulb growing became centered in an area on the California-Oregon border that today accounts for about 95% of bulb production. They are shipped out to commercial greenhouses across Canada and the US. Because Easter is not a fixed date, these growers must carefully juggle growing conditions to ensure the plants are in bloom for Easter.

And that’s how the Easter lily arrived at your grocery store. All you have to do is care for it for a week or two, and here’s how.

Easter lilies prefer moderately cool temperatures, so place where daytime temperatures are fifteen to eighteen degrees Celsius with slightly cooler night temperatures. They dislike drafts and won’t put up with excess heat or dry air from heating ducts.

They thrive best near a window in bright, indirect natural daylight — not direct sunlight. Water well when the soil surface feels dry, but avoid drenching. If the pot is still wrapped in decorative foil, rip it off as otherwise the plant’s roots are standing in water all the time.

As the flowers mature, remove the yellow anthers before the pollen starts to shed. This prolongs flower life and prevents the pollen from staining the white flowers.

The bulbs can be planted outdoors in spring and grown on; however, they aren’t reliably hardy in this area, but if you want to chance it, plant it about eight to ten centimetres deep in a sheltered, sunny, well-drained corner of your garden and mulch well to keep the soil cool. Mulch even more in fall for winter protection. Happy Easter and long live Lilium longiflorum.

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