The Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) is a perennial bulb with large, white, trumpet-shaped flowers and wonderful fragrance. Often known as the trumpet lily among gardeners, this plant is called the Easter lily in its role as a traditional Easter-time treat. If you have received or given a living Easter lily, more than likely it was grown by one of a handful of growers located along the border of California and Oregon, an area labeled the "Easter Lily Capital of the World." Roughly 95 percent of the 11.5 million Eater Lilies grown and sold each year originate in this area.
Lilium longiflorum is a true species lily, classified as a Division IX lily (not a hybrid or cultivar). Native to the southern islands of Japan and Taiwan, it has large trumpet-shaped flowers that face outward from the stems. The stems are 24 to 36 inches tall, with narrow, dark-green lance-shaped leaves that are 5 to 8 inches long. The fragrant flowers are typically 5 to 7 inches long, and they normally bloom in July and August when planted in the outdoor garden. Potted Easter lilies used in spring celebrations are "forced" into early bloom; they require some extra care if you want to continue growing them or transfer them to outdoor planting.
A World War I soldier, Louis Houghton, is credited with starting U.S. Easter lily production when he brought a suitcase full of lily bulbs with him to the southern coast of Oregon in 1919. He gave them away to friends, and when the supply of bulbs from Japan was cut off as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the rising price of the bulbs suddenly made the lily business a viable industry for these hobby growers, earning the bulbs the nickname "White Gold."
- Botanical Name: Lilium longiflorum
- Common Name: Easter lily, trumpet lily
- Plant Type: perennial bulb
- Mature Size: 24 to 36 inches tall
- Sun Exposure: full sun
- Soil Type: sandy loam soil, rich in humus
- Soil pH: 5.5 to 6.5
- Bloom Time: June and July (earlier, if forced for Easter blooming)
- Flower Color: white
- Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8 (USDA)
- Native Area: southern islands of Japan
How to Choose an Easter Lily
While tempting to buy plants that are already in full bloom, immediate gratification won’t translate into long-term enjoyment. Follow these tips for choosing lily plants that will last through the holiday season and beyond:
- Choose a plant with flowers and buds in various stages of development, preferably from tight bud to partially opened flower.
- Make sure the foliage is dense, extends all the way down the stem to the soil line and has a uniform rich, healthy, green color.
- Check to make sure that the plant has no signs of insects (eggs, webbing, actual bugs, chewed leaves) or disease (dark spots, crinkling, wilting).
- Select a plant that is twice as tall as the pot. A plant that has outgrown its pot will be stressed.
How to Grow Easter Lily (Trumpet Lily)
How you grow an Easter lily will vary, depending on if you are trying to keep it blooming as a seasonal potted specimen, attempting to grow it onward to bloom in the garden in subsequent years, or growing it as a garden plant from a bulb.
Potted Plants: When obtained as a potted plant forced into early bloom, keep your Easter lily blooming by taking a few easy precautions.
Remove the yellow anthers from the flower centers. This helps prolong the life of the blossoms and prevents the pollen on the anthers from staining the flowers, your hands, clothing, tablecloths, rugs and anything else it can find its way to. It also makes your lilies much easier to handle for allergy sufferers.
Display your plant in bright, but indirect sunlight, and protect it from drafts and heat sources, such as fireplaces, heaters, and appliances. Cool daytime temperatures in the 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit range will prolong the life of the blooms. The temperature can be even cooler at night.
If the lily's pot is in a decorative foil wrapper, be sure water is not accumulating under the pot. More plants die from over-watering than under-watering. Water your Easter lily only when the soil becomes dry to the touch, and don’t leave it dry for extended periods. Remove flowers as they fade and wither.
Continual Growing: If you wish to continue growing your Easter lily and have it bloom again in the future, you may be able to transplant the potted lily outdoors. The success rate will vary, as with all florist plants that have been forced into bloom.
Wait until all the flowers have withered and been removed from the plant. Keep the plant watered and in indirect sunlight until it is ready to go outside. When all danger of frost has passed, find a sunny, well-draining spot in your garden. Lilies like full sun but cool soil. Amend the soil with some organic matter, if needed. Soil pH should be a neutral 5.5 to 6.5.
Plant the bulb to the same depth it was in the pot. Add an additional 2-inch layer of organic mulch around the roots. Don't pile the mulch against the stem, or it may rot. When the original leaves and stem will start to brown, cut the plant down to a healthy, green leaf. New growth should soon emerge from the base of the plant. Let the plant grow foliage the first year; don't worry about flowering. The new growth will turn yellow in the fall and the lily plant can then be cut back to soil level. At this point, top dress the soil with bulb fertilizer or blood meal and work it into the surrounding soil, making sure not to disturb the lilies roots. Apply a few more inches of mulch to insulate the plant through the winter.
In the spring, remove the mulch as the weather warms. Begin applying a balanced fertilizer as soon as new growth appears.
Plan to be patient. It may take a couple of year's for your plant to build up enough resources to set flower buds. Easter Lilies naturally bloom in June/July, so don't look for flowers next Easter. If you've come this far successfully, keep your lily well watered the first year as it establishes itself, and then treat it as you would any other lily.
Planting From Bulbs: This is considerably easier since the Easter lily is handled just like any other lily bulb. Choose a location with average, medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. L. langiflorum grows best with the upper part of the plant in full sun and the roots in shade. Plant the bulbs 4 to 6 inches deep in the fall or very early spring. Space the bulbs 12 inches apart.
Easter lily bulbs need good moisture year-round; do not allow the soil to dry out. Easter lilies grow tall, so staking will likely be necessary. After the plants bloom, cut them back after the leaves and stems turn yellow.
Planted in the garden, Easter lilies require a location with full sun to part shade.
Plant the bulbs in rich but well-drained soil with medium moisture.
Easter lilies must remain moist; water them whenever the soil dries out in the top 1 inch.
Temperature and Humidity
Lilies tolerate a wide range of temperatures but need a cool period of at least 8 weeks (below 65 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to bloom. They do not do well in very warm, tropical climates. They tolerate a wide range of humidity levels.
Feed new bulbs with a balanced fertilizer such as 5-10-10 or 10-10-10, but make sure the fertilizer doesn't touch the bulbs directly. This is usually the only feeding necessary.
Varieties of Easter Lily (Trumpet Lily)
- L. longiflorum 'White Heaven' is a classic pure white Easter lily that grows 2 to 3 feet high with 7-inch long flowers.
- L. longiflorum ‘Nellie White’ is the cultivar normally grown and sold by commercial growers for the Easter lily trade.
- L. longiflorum ‘Deliana’ is a variety with creamy yellow flowers.
- L. longiflorum ‘Elegant Lady’ features fragrant pink flowers. It is sometimes known as ‘Pink Easter Lily’.
- L. langiflorum 'Trimphator’ has white flowers with rosy pink centers.
- L. langiflorum ‘White Elegance’ has smaller but more plentiful pure white flowers.
Toxicity of Easter Lily (Trumpet Lily)
L. longiflorum is known to be toxic to cats and can cause kidney damage. Even licking the pollen of the Easter lily may cause illness to a cat and require veterinary intervention.
Trumpet lilies have no serious pests and diseases, but aphids may sometimes appear. Aphids can be rinsed off by spraying with water, or they can be treated with insecticidal soap.
To prevent the bulbs from being dug up by squirrels or gophers, cover the bulbs with wire mesh or wire baskets when planting.