The White Lily of Hope and Life
On this Easter weekend, it is fitting to talk about the Easter Lily. At this time of year, they are in every florist and garden center. Even if there are other plants to buy, tradition drives us to buy the lily. Why is the lily the symbol of this season? It represents the resurrection of Jesus. The lily rises out of the soil and blooms beautifully, those we buy at Easter being forced to do just that at just the right time. The Easter lily, Lilium longiflorum is native to Japan and most were grown there for shipment to the U.S. until World War II. Then the U.S. started growing the bulbs themselves. Most of them are raised on the California/Oregon border. It is known as the Easter Lily Capital of the World. It takes 3-4 years to grow the bulb from bulblet to shipping size. The bulbs are then shipped to greenhouses all over the U.S. to grow and force for Easter. According to the U.S.D.A, Michigan produces the highest number of plants. Go Michigan!! The hard part is forcing them to bloom for Easter which changes every year. The first Sunday that follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox is Easter Sunday. This could occur any Sunday between March 22 and April 25. This keeps the growers on their toes. Poinsettias are always needed on the same date every year, as are Valentine’s roses.
Many stories circulate concerning the story behind the Easter lily. One is that lilies were found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane after Christ’s time there praying. The lilies sprung up where his drops of sweat fell on the ground in his final hours. Churches use these flowers to decorate sanctuaries at this time of the year. They represent hope and life: the eternal life that Jesus gave to us by his death and resurrection.
How do you take care of them when you get them home? First, remove the yellow anthers before the pollen starts to shed. The flowers will last longer and not stain you, your clothes, or the white flower petals. Keep your lily in a cool,bright place and keep them moderately moist. If it comes in a decorative sleeve, empty it after watering or take it out of the sleeve to water and let it drain before replacing it.
After flowering and the chance of frost is past, you can plant your lily outside. Plant the bulb at least 3 inches below the soil surface. Next year, it will bloom at the time it would normally bloom if not forced, which is in the summer months. They like their head in the sun and their roots in the shade. This means a nice layer of mulch is essential. Here in Michigan, I would probably make sure they have a good thick layer of mulch for the winter, as well.
Next time you see an Easter lily, I hope you think of it more than just a nice white flower.
Fills the church with perfumes rare,
As their clouds of incense rise,
Sweetest offerings to the skies.
Stately lilies pure and white
Flooding darkness with their light,
Bloom and sorrow drifts away,
On this holy hallow’d day.
Easter Lilies bending low
in the golden afterglow,
Bear a message from the sod
To the heavenly towers of God.
-Louise Lewin Matthews