Family: Liliaceae

The first illustrations of liliums were done on Cretan pottery around 2000 BC, while bulbs have been found in mummy cases in Egypt, presumably included with the dead because the bulbs at that time were used for food and as medicine. The earliest known type is the Madonna lily (L. candidum), from the Mediterranean, which symbolizes purity. Today, lilium societies throughout the world distribute the latest information on breeding and culture and members exchange ideas and plants. The genus Lilium, containing the true lilies, is distinguished from other bulbous plants by the fleshy scales of the bulb that are not enclosed by a protective skin or tunic. Most of the lilies grown today are hybrids.


L. auratum, golden-rayed lily, zone 6, from japan, was introduced to England in the mid-19th century and has been widely grown ever since. This magnificent species has large, white, heavily perfumed flowers, spotted with purplish red flecks, with a golden stripe run­ning from the throat to the edge of each petal. Stems grow 1-2 m (3-6 ft) tall and may bear up to 20 blooms.

L. candidum, Madonna lily, zone 6, has sparkling, pure white, trumpet-shaped, glorious, fragrant flowers, during midsummer. One of the earliest recorded species, it is still sought after, but quite difficult to grow as it is prone to fungal disease.

L. henryi, zone 5, from central China, is a vigorous grower, with small, pendulous, reflexed, orange flowers. The stems grow up to about 2 m (6 ft), sometimes bearing as many as 40 blooms.

L. longiflorum, Easter lily from Japan, zone 9, is a vigorous grower with beautiful, white, highly fragrant, trumpet-shaped flowers which are widely used in the cut flower market. This lily is not very hardy and is often grown in pots under glass. Height is up to 1 m (3 ft).

L. regale, regal lily, zone 5, from western China, was introduced to England in the early 1900s. Reasonably easy to grow, it reaches a height of over 2 m (6 ft). The large, trumpet-shaped, summer flowers are a pale rose-purple on the outside, the white inside blending to yellow at the base of the throat.

L. rubellum, zone 6, is an Oriental species, flowering early, to 50 cm (20 in) tall, with beautiful, pink flowers. This species has been used extensively in hybridizing. General nurseries may carry a small range of lilium bulbs, but to get a good selection, contact a specialist grower. Many of these specialists advertize in popular garden magazines.


Liliums can be grown both in acid or slightly alkaline soil, but they all need good drainage, some sun and some shade, and a cool root run. Late varieties need more shade as they flower when the sun is at its hottest. If the ground has been well manured, further feeding is generally unnecessary; if not, add a generous amount of compost and a handful of complete fertilizer to a square metre (yard). If growing in pots, use a good quality potting mix with some additional coir peat or aged cow manure. Do not allow lilium bulbs to dry out. Before plant­ing, put them in a mesh bag and hose thor­oughly to remove dirt and diseased scales.

Except for L. candidum, which must be planted with the top near the surface of the soil, plant the bulbs to a depth of about 10 cm (4 in), a little deeper for particularly large bulbs. After planting, give the bulbs a thorough soak­ing. During the growing season, water deeply once a week, although potted plants may need watering every two days unless in a very shel­tered position. Bulbs may be left for years in one spot in the garden, provided that the soil is nourished and kept cool in the heat of summer. Even the best soils need plenty of organic matter added to them periodically, otherwise fewer blooms will be produced each year. Liliums can be propagated by several methods. If left alone, bulbs will naturally divide, form­ing two and sometimes more bulbs. In some species, stem bulbs will form at the base of the stem, above the bulb but under the ground. When these are removed at the end of the growing season and planted individually, they will usually grow and occasionally produce a single bloom during the next flowering season.

Some liliums form bulbils in the leaf axils; when they are ready to autumn in autumn, they may he removed and planted in seedling trays, often producing leaves before winter. Flowering should occur in two years. Propagation by scales taken from the bulbs is another method. After rinsing the bulbs, remove the scales and place in a plastic bag with damp peat so that there is air for the developing bulblets. 'Ile the top of the bag to keep the moisture in and put in a warm, dark spot; in about three weeks, small bulblets should have formed. These can be treated as small plants. They will be identical to the parent bulb from which the scales were taken and may flower after two years.

Liliums can also be raised from seed. Sow seed in pots or seed trays as soon as it is ripe, using seed compost, and germinate in a garden frame. Loosely fill the seed tray with mix, sow the seed and firm down. Sprinkle a thin layer of mix or vermiculite over the seed. Water gently. Asiatic types (those which send up a leaf on germina­tion) appear in about three weeks. Oriental varieties (those which form a bulblet before the first leaf appears) will show the first leaf in spring if sown in autumn. Asiatic seedlings will usu­ally flower in two years; Oriental ones in three years. Liliums are subject to attack by slugs, snails and aphids. When shoots emerge in spring, snails and slugs may eat them, causing the bulb to die. Use snail baits as needed and watch for aphids which can be gently hosed off the plants.


There are species suited to various climatic zones.

Ligustrum      Lime