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Growing Together: Fun facts about Easter lilies

Don Kinzler, gardening columnist 1 / 3
Removing pollen-covered anthers as flowers open helps blossoms last longer.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 3
Although they are native to Japan, the United States now leads the world in Easter Lily bulb production.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 3

No plant says Easter like the lily. Behind each potted paschal plant is an interesting mix of history and culture. Lilies didn't always begin life as potted plants.

Did you know:

• Although the Bible describes lilies growing in Palestine, the large, white lily we recognize today didn't become common in churches until the 1800s, when popular tradition gave them the nickname Easter lily.

• Lilium longiflorum is the botanical species of Easter lily, which is native to Japan's Ryukyu Islands.

• They were first grown like other lilies, as outdoor perennial flowers, until greenhouse growers developed the idea of growing them in pots and forcing them to bloom in time for Easter.

• Easter lily bulbs were first brought to the United States by a World War I soldier who smuggled a suitcase full of bulbs into the country as he returned home to Oregon in 1919.

• Japan led the world in Easter lily bulb production until World War II interrupted the supply and sent prices skyrocketing. Hobby gardeners in Oregon started selling bulbs. Today, 95 percent of the world's Easter lily bulbs are produced on farms along the Oregon-Washington border, from where they're distributed worldwide to greenhouses for forcing into Easter bloom.

• Because the date of Easter varies each year, greenhouse growers carefully schedule their crop of potted lilies to bloom at just the right time. If growing conditions aren't carefully monitored, an entire crop can be worthless if they miss Easter by blooming too early or too late.

• Temperature, light and moisture are carefully controlled, and greenhouse growers have devised a way to count leaves to determine if plants are on schedule.

• Proper care after purchase increases flower longevity. A cool temperature around 68 degrees is preferred, and cooler at night. Avoid warm drafts.

• Flowers will last longer if the yellow anthers inside are removed immediately when blossoms begin to open.

• Keep soil moist when in full bloom.

• Cut holes in decorative foil to prevent plants from sitting in excess drainage. Place pots in saucers, and discard excess immediately after watering.

• Attempting to rebloom an Easter lily in its pot is usually unsuccessful, but they can be transferred to an outdoor perennial flower bed.

• Easter lilies are considered hardy only to hardiness zone 5, but they can be grown in our zone 4 perennial beds if given 1 to 2 feet of mulch in autumn for winter protection.

• To save lilies after Easter for outdoor planting, remove flowers as they fade and place plant in a sunny window. Grow as a houseplant, fertilizing with each watering until leaves turn yellow naturally. In mid-May remove the bulb from its pot and plant outdoors in a protected, but sunny flowerbed. New growth will soon emerge from ground level.

• Easter lilies bloom in late September during the first outdoor planting season. In following years, they'll bloom at normal lily-flowering time in July at a height of about 3 feet.

• Although Easter lilies are beautiful, they're very toxic to cats. Numerous university literature sources indicate that consumption of one or two leaves can cause kidney failure in cats.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.

He also blogs at " target="_blank">growingtogether.areavoices.com.

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