Lily Lore

GENUS:  Lilium
Many of the 200 species of lilies are native to the United States. Plant breeders have done extensive hybridization work on the lilies to make them hardy and free flowering. Lilies are now available in every color except blue.
FAMILY:  Liliaceae
BLOOMS:  late spring
TYPE:  perennial
DESCRIPTION:  Lilies are one of the most beautiful of all garden plants. The flowers are large and deliciously colored, and they usually occur many to a stem. The height of lilies ranges between 2 to 6 feet. Flower forms include trumpet shape, pendant, flat-faced, or bowl-shaped.
CULTIVATION:  The most important requirement for growing lilies is well-drained soil. Water standing on the bulbs will cause them to rot. The bulbs should be kept cool. This can be done by overplanting with annuals or perennials. Depending on the size of the bulbs, they should be planted 4 to 8 inches deep in the fall. Lilies prefer soil that is slightly acidic and rich in organic matter. When planting, add a bit of bone meal mixed into the soil at the bottom of the hole. Any lily that grows more than 3 feet tall should be staked. Be sure to water lilies generously while they are in bloom and use a complete fertilizer in early spring as the stems emerge, again when the buds form, and after they have bloomed.

lily diagram


According to the Victorian language of flowers, the lily is a symbol of majesty. Certainly, the regal lily has always been beloved by both princes and paupers from all over the world. Greek and Roman mythologies mention the lily often, as do legends from China and Japan.
The tiger lily grows wild in Korea, where it was revered for both its beauty and its delicate flavor. It was considered a symbol of war. This lily was brought to Europe from the Orient in 1804 by plant collector William Kerr.
Lilies have been cultivated for over 5,000 years since the Sumerian culture developed in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. One Sumerian city was named Susa, another name for Lily. Some scholars insist that the city was named for the flower; others suggest that it was the other way around.
The lily has often been associated with religious figures. It was thought to be sacred to the Minoan goddess Britomartis; was considered the flower of Saint Anthony, the protector of marriages; was thought to be the symbol of the Virgin Mary; and was a sacred symbol of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Roman mythology also associates it with Juno, the queen of the gods and goddess of marriage. According to the myth, when Juno was nursing her son Hercules, excess milk fell from the sky. Part of it stayed in the heavens, creating the Milky Way, and part of it fell to earth, creating the lilies. In Rome, lilies were known as Rosa junonis, or Juno’s rose. White lilies have always been considered a symbol of peace.
Romans used a concoction made from the bulbs to treat corns and sores on their feet, and they probably carried the plants to England with them for this purpose. Lily and yarrow, together with boiled in oil, were used for burns, and lily seeds taken in the drink were supposed to cure snakebite. White lilies were thought to cure the bite of a mad dog. The bulbs, beaten with honey and placed on the face, were thought to clear the complexion and make facial wrinkles disappear. Washing hair often with lilies, ashes, and lye supposedly would turn the hair a blond color.
Though their medicinal properties were valuable and varied, lilies were soon appreciated for their beauty as well as their curative powers.
The Madonna lily was particularly popular in the sixteenth-century garden, though it did not receive this name until the end of the nineteenth century. It was a symbol of purity and innocence, and during the Middle Ages artists frequently painted female saints holding the blossoms.
Lilies have always been popular as decorations in the church. During Victorian times, however, some of the Christian churches removed the stamens and pistils so as not to offend anyone.
According to Anglo-Saxon folklore, if you offered an expectant mother both a rose and a lily, and she chose a rose, the baby would be a girl; if the lily was chosen, a boy was on the way. The lily is considered the sacred flower of motherhood. European superstition held that lilies were protection against witchcraft and kept ghosts from entering the garden.
Before the French Revolution, the House of Orange in Holland used the orange lily as a political symbol. When the House of Orange fell, in an act of defiance, radicals destroyed all lily bulbs.
Lilies are edible and even tasty. One suggestion for lily cuisine is to add fresh lily buds to clear chicken soup during the last three minutes of cooking for a bit of “lily-drop” soup.

The Sego lily is the state flower of Utah.

3 thoughts on “Lily Lore

  1. Callas and water lilies are in other families, so are not related to lilies. However, now that you mention it, Saint Anthony sometimes has a calla instead of the white lily. I have seen him with either, but have never given it any thought. I have only seen Saint Fiacre with an Easter lily if he has a flower at all. He usually does not.

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