Haynes and Nelson provided a good and informative introduction to lilies in the form of a leaflet produced for Iowa State University’s Reiman Gardens (2006). They began by reminding readers that the “true lilies” belong to the Lilium genus, whereas other so-called lilies such as “daylily, calla lily, toad lily, and surprise lily” are not members of that family. They explained how the true lilies grow from bulbs, are ideal for growing in virtually any location in the garden and produce large decorative flowers during the summer. In addition, the authors stated, lilies are not only hardy, they can be selected according to variety to provide a wide range of colors, heights (from one to six feet or more) and forms of flowers. Because they provide such a striking display, they are sometimes referred to with regal names such as the “Queen” or the “Grand Dame” of the floral display in the summer season. Due to the slightly different flowering times and growing heights of different varieties, judiciously chosen planting schemes can ensure a splendid display of lilies for much of the summer.
As regards growing lilies, Haynes and Nelson advised that the ideal conditions for lilies would be a slightly acidic free-draining soil in which the bulbs are planted between 6 and 8 inches deep in the fall. Also, keeping the soil surface cool and weed-free by mulching helps retain moisture around the root system. They noted that lilies cannot thrive in wet or soggy conditions, but will be happy growing in either full sun or partial shade, except for one lily group – the Turk’s cap lilies – that will not tolerate full sun, being of woodland origin.
There are basically four groups of lilies, known respectively as Asiatic, Oriental, Trumpet and Turk’s cap. According to Haynes and Nelson, the lilies in the Asiatic group offer the widest color range, often freckled, available in almost every color other than blue and growing to a height of between two and five feet. They are the earliest to flower, and if they have any fault at all it is that they are not fragrant. In contrast, the Oriental and Trumpet groups of lilies are generally very fragrant, although the Turk’s cap group have a scent, but one that is described as not pleasant.
Haynes’ and Nelson’s description of the Oriental lily types noted that they provide the largest and best-scented blooms which appear at about the time the flowering of hybrids of the Asiatic types is ending – middle to late summertime. One minor negative is that because they are generally quite tall, they may need support in windy conditions as well as some protection from strong sunlight. The Trumpet group, so-called because of the shape of their blooms, flower about the same time as the Orientals, in a wider range of colors than the original white or yellow. They also are tall (up to eight feet), so require staking if in a windy location.
The final lily group covered by the Haynes and Nelson leaflet is the Turk’s cap – sometimes called the Martagon lily. They produce generally smaller-sized and downward-facing flowers, which are available in a wide selection of colors and can be either speckled or plain. The name “Turk’s cap comes from their resemblance to the shape of a turban. Another tall variety, these lilies will also tolerate shade, having originated as a woodland plant.
Haynes and Nelson recommended lilies as cut flowers as they have a good “vase life”, but noted that to allow the bulb to develop and mature after cutting, at least half the plant’s foliage should be left growing. Additionally, they advised carefully removing the flower structures bearing the pollen, which can mark clothing and soft furnishings within the home.
Cummings (n.d.) published an article entitled “Lily Propagation Methods” which revealed some surprising techniques for producing new lily plants from your original stock. He described how the lily has multiple natural ways of reproducing themselves. The first is by division of the bulb. When the bulb has reached a certain size it just divides into two, each new “half” is then called an offset and has its own growing point. This natural process will be repeated time and time again if the plants are left to their own devices, forming a clump of lily plants. However, they will eventually become weaker plants unless dug up, separated and replanted, each new plant now having more room to grow.
Another way the lily plants multiply as described by Cummings is by means of stem bulblets. These appear between the top of the main bulb and the soil surface. A few weeks after the plant has finished flowering, it can be carefully lifted from the ground and the bulblets separated and replanted, perhaps in a nursery bed to grow on to flowering size. Yet another method of multiplication that occurs naturally is through stem bulbils. As described by Cummings, in certain lily species these appear as small, dark-colored berry-like objects in the leaf axils. They are best left to grow in situ as long as possible, and can then be harvested (removed from the parent plant) and planted out in a nursery bed to grow on, just like the stem bulblets.
Another “semi-natural” process of lily multiplication / propagation that Cummings described was by means of “scales”. These are the outer segments of the bulb that can be carefully teased away from the parent bulb, then placed in moist vermiculite until bulblets form and produce roots. They can then be planted in trays for growing on.
Cummings’ final method of propagation described was using a process called tissue culture. It is usually a process done in laboratory conditions and by commercial growers to produce many plants quickly. It requires very small amounts of the material of the parent plant to be placed in a sterile (very important!) medium to which growth hormone has been added to stimulate cell division. Millions of bulblets can be produced by this method, reaching commercial size in about two years.
“Lilies in Japan” is the title of a paper by Shimizu (2008), in which the author gave some interesting historical background to the story of lilies. He described that Japan’s wide variations of climate across its four main islands encourage the growth of almost 3700 species of native plants, including 15 species of the lily (Lilium), which flower – according to type – from early April through to August, enriching and brightening the countryside. According to Shimizu, almost all 47 of Japan’s prefectures (sub-national jurisdictions) feature naturally-occurring wild lilies, making it one the most prominent nations in the world for lilies. Many varieties are found there, including the Tiger Lily, which is perhaps one of the best known varieties that is commonly seen in flower markets across Europe and grows wild in parts of the US.
Shimizu related how in Japan little thought was paid to the wild lilies other than to cut them for decoration in the home, until they were first exported to the West in the middle of the 19th century, generating tremendous interest. That caused Japanese entrepreneurs to begin growing them for export, which increased to around 40 million bulbs annually by 1935. Then countries including the US, European countries, Australia and New Zealand began selective breeding of lilies, using plants sourced not only from Japan but also from China. Lilies are still produced in vast numbers within Japan, partly for export, partly to sell within the home country for the cut flower market (including a chilling industry that facilitates selling the cut flowers from October through to July). However, a surprising sector of the lily bulb market revealed by Shimizu is that bulbs are sold to eat. Several varieties are edible and the bulbs are primarily sold for cooking purposes.
Cummings, M. (n.d.). Lily Propagation Methods. Mike’s Backyard Garden. Web. 23 April 2013.
Haynes, C., and Nelson, D. (2006). Growing Garden Lilies. Iowa State University’s Reiman Gardens. Web. 22 April 2013.
Shimizu, M. (2008). Lilies in Japan. Horticultural Association of Kanagawa Prefecture. Web. 23 April 2013.