The flower that most often comes to mind, when we think of Easter, is the Easter lily. But there are others as well, all with rather interesting origins.
Did you know that the Easter lily’s true name is Bermuda lily? It is a pure white flower, believed to symbolize purity. Coming from one bulb, the flower is said to represent the tomb of Jesus with the blossoms symbolizing his life after death.
In the Alps, the narcissus has been associated with Easter for centuries. In fact, even before Christianity, the narcissus represented springtime in Greek mythology.
In England and Russia, pussy willows are used for Easter flowers. In the Middle East, it is wild tulips, while in Mexico, tropical flowers fill the churches during this spring holiday season.
The early Germans decorated with red flowers and red fruited plants such as English holly, believing the red color represented the blood of Christ. The field anemone, Anemone coronaria, also was associated with the passion of Christ. In this country, most people buy Easter lilies to celebrate the season. When buying a lily, select a plant with many unopened buds and leaves all the way down the stem. Poor growing conditions or root disease will cause the loss of leaves from the bottom up, so be sure to pull back the wrapper to check.
Choose a well-proportioned plant, one that’s about two times as high as the pot. Check the buds, flowers, and leaves–especially the undersides–for signs of insect pests and disease.
To keep your lily healthy at home, remove the decorative foil or paper covering the pot, or make a hole in the bottom, to allow better drainage. Put your plant where it will get plenty of bright, indirect light and cool temperatures. About 40 to 50 degrees F at night and below 68 degrees F during the day is ideal.
You also will need to keep the soil constantly moist. To prolong the life of the blossoms, remove the yellow, pollen-bearing pods or anthers found in the center of each flower.
Don’t expect your lily to flower again as it’s already been “forced” once by the grower to bloom in time for Easter. However, you might get your lily to bloom again next fall by planting it outdoors once the soil has warmed up.
If you plan to replant your lily outdoors, remove the flowers as they fade. Put the plant on a sunny windowsill for four to six weeks until the foliage matures. Continue to water.
When the leaves turn brown, cut the stem off at the soil line. Then in late May, plant the bulb four to six inches deep in a sunny, well-drained location. Fertilize twice during the summer. With luck, your lily will bloom this fall. Just don’t count on it surviving a Vermont winter although you might try protecting it with a thick layer of straw, then wait to see what happens.
A BASKET OF EASTER FLOWERS
By Dr. Leonard Perry
Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist
University of Vermont