May Bouquet: Lilies

May Bouquet: Lilies

April showers have brought May flowers… to the blog. Today’s post is one of a May Bouquet series focused on flowers one might find in a bouquet. Y’know, leading up to Mother’s Day this Sunday. Think of these posts as daily reminders with wonderful suggestions on ways to honor the mothers in your lives.

It wasn’t that long ago, Lilium longiflorum was featured on this blog, but today we are moving out of the pots and into the vases where a wider world of lilies awaits. And it’s a wild world out there. Check out these different forms.


Orange Lily in full bloom showing pollen covered stamens, Ontario, Canada. June 2002. Credit: Relic38 via Wikipedia

Lilium superbum Credit: Arx Fortis via Wikipedia

Lilium tsingtauense Credit: Klaus Goldbeck via Wikipedia

Oriental hybrid Credit: Hardyplants via Wikipedia

Lilium monadelphum Credit: Arnold Trachtenberg via Wikipedia

These blooms burst with celebrate and all of these colors and shapes deserve to be seen, but it has only been relatively recently that lilies have gained ground in the cut flower industry. Some lilies had large fragrant blooms, but faced downward on the stem. Other varieties had smaller but more colorful flowers that were easier for florists to work with. In the late 1970s, Leslie Woodriff, a dedicated lily breeder developed the Stargazer hybrid lily. The combination of genetics he stumbled upon combined the most desired traits into a single plant- bold color, delightful fragrance and upward-facing bloom. In the world of cut lilies, the Stargazer is still the most popular with more than 36 million sold annually.

Stargazer Lily Credit: Dogmadic via Wikimedia

The success of the Stargazer lily opened the floodgates for lily breeders to experiment with other hybrids. Today there are more than 7000 registered lily varieties to choose from when it comes to designing bouquets for all occasions. The new classes of hybrids bring together color patterns, fragrance and bloom shapes in all combinations. One of the newer famous lily varieties to come out of the labors of master Dutch hybridizers is the ‘Robina,’ a large dark pink lily. There’s still no transgenic technology involved, but a lot of science still goes into cultivating the new hybrid seeds that would otherwise have a difficult time growing in standard conditions.


Robina Liliy Credit: Caroline via Flickr

Robina Liliy
Credit: Caroline via Flickr

Of course, there is one thing that still plagues the use of lilies in floral arrangements for formal occasions- the prodigious amounts of bright yellow to dark brown pollen on their large anthers. When it dusts off onto fabrics like white tablecloths or expensive wedding gowns, it can cause a stain that is quite difficult to remove.* Of course, this is not a ‘problem’ for the plants, only for the humans that choose to enjoy them. In fact, the pollen is quite essential for the lilies because it is necessary for their sexual reproduction. Pollen is the plant-equivalent of sperm. Hopefully this doesn’t ruin the whole bouquet-thing for you, but in case you hadn’t made the connection yet… bouquets are just plant reproductive organs on display.** So, yeah, about that lily pollen on your wedding dress, “Ugh. and Eww.” Nobody wants that stain.

Regardless of the utility of pollen to the lilies, scandalous stain potential has prompted extreme measures to get rid of the pollen. Some florists may perform the tedious task of clipping off the anthers from each open lily flower, but I know exactly how many lily flowers (one, maybe two) I would have to emasculate to start thinking, “There’s gotta be a better way!” So, lily breeders have been on the genetic hunt for varieties that do not produce pollen. There are some varieties on the market and generally this produces sterile flowers. (Not to worry because they are perennials that can grow from bulbs, these plants can still be propagated.) Some varieties, like Elodie, make normal-looking lilies that just appear to have completely bare anthers. Other varieties have a double petal pattern, in which the extra set of petals bends upward to the center of the bloom modestly enclosing all of the anthers and stamens.

Elodie Lily Credit: Diana Beideman via Flickr

Elodie Lily
Credit: Diana Beideman via Flickr

Suffice it to say that there are many lilies to choose from for your bouquet, and breeders are ensuring that there will be even more choices in the future. Just enjoy the colors and the fragrance and try not to focus so much on their biological utility.



*FYI- brush it off with something dry, adding moisture will cause the stain to set.

**What can I say, plant reproductive parts are just more beautiful than those of any other kingdom of life. It also adds a deeper meaning to the giving of bouquets in celebration of holidays like Valentine’s day, Mother’s Day, weddings and anniversaries, but I’m just here for the plant science.

References and Links:


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