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What are Easter Lilies?

Amanda Piontek
Amanda Piontek

Easter lilies are white, cone-shaped spring flowers popularly affiliated with the Christian Easter holiday. A symbol of hope and life, Easter lilies are also known as Bermuda lilies, or Lilium longiflorum eximium. The plant hails from Japan, arrived in England in 1819, and in the United States a hundred years later. Easter lilies are bulbs that prefer cool temperatures and moist soil. They can be kept indoors as potted plants, or planted outside in the garden, depending on the local climate.

The Bermuda lily is between 18 and 36 inches (about 46-91 cm) tall, with deep green, glossy foliage and downward-facing, trumpet shaped flowers. Although lilies can be found in a wide variety of colors, the traditional Easter lily sports white, showy blooms with creamy centers and yellow stamens. Easter lilies are artificially forced by greenhouse growers to bloom in the early spring—their natural blooming time is actually later in the summer.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

An Easter lily makes a beautiful houseplant when purchased during the Easter season. A quality, properly cared for lily can last in the home for several weeks. When the initial blooming period is over, the lily can be transplanted into an outdoor garden. It should be placed in a sunny, cool location with moist, well-draining soil. With a little care and attention, the bulbs might reward the gardener with a second blooming in mid- to late summer.

Legends and folklore surround the history of the Easter lily. Lilies have been closely linked to Christianity for decades, with early paintings depicting both the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary with the white, trumpet shaped blooms. It is fabled that lilies were found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane after Christ's death on the cross, and that during his suffering, blooms sprang from the Earth where his sweat touched the ground. Greek and Roman mythology place white lilies in association with the goddess Juno, also known as Hera. According to the myth, milk flowed from the breasts of the goddess, forming the Milky Way, and drops of milk that fell from the sky onto the earth brought forth fields of lilies.

The Bermuda lily originated on the Ryukyu Islands in south Japan. Discovered in 1777 by a famous plant explorer named Carl Peter Thunberg, they made their way to England in 1819. From there the Easter lilies traveled on to Bermuda and later the United States. A soldier from the first World War bought a case of the lily bulbs to Oregon in 1919, beginning United States production of the flower.

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