• Its color, white, stands for purity.
• Its tall, hanging bloom represents Jesus' humility.
• The trumpet-shaped blossom symbolizes the heralding of Jesus' birth and resurrection.
• Biblical scholars have written that lilies grew in the Garden of Gethsemane; folklore maintains lilies "sprang up where Christ's tears fell" in his final hours of sorrow before the crucifixion.
With its glossy, white blossoms trumpeting spring's season of rebirth, the Easter lily (Lilium Longiflorum) is a favorite gift for its symbolism.
During the two weeks of the Easter season, sales of Easter lilies top more than $39 million nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, making them the fourth-largest potted-plant crop in the country. Only poinsettias, mums and azaleas sell more.
But what happens to the plant once Sunday's holiday passes?
With the right care, a lily can be transferred to the garden where it will return each summer.
Gil Cartwright, co-owner of Flowers by Gil & Curt, says Easter lilies like cool rooms (60 to 65 degrees) with indirect sunlight. Cartwright says when a bloom first opens, its stamens (the six, long strands inside the bloom's conical throat) will be black. As the plant matures, these stamens turn yellow. At the end of each stamen is its pollen-bearing anther.
"Remove pollen from the stamen before it turns yellow," advises Cartwright to prevent the yellow dust from staining tablecloths, your hands or anything else the sticky substance lands on. Use your fingers to gently pull the anther off the stamen.
If your lily is a gift plant, remove the decorative foil wrapping periodically to ensure water doesn't stand under the pot. Also, lilies are very toxic to cats; choose a spot out of reach from the family pet.
"Keep the plant moist. When it quits blooming, plant it in the yard and it will bloom again," he instructs.
But don't expect to see the plant rebloom in time for next Easter. "It will bloom again in late July or early August," he says.
Cindy Webster, owner of The Barn Nursery, says plant your Easter lily 6 inches deep in well-drained soil. Make sure the spot gets full sun, she advises.
"You can plant in an area with only morning sun, but the lily is not likely to bloom as well," she explains.
Webster says to mulch the plant heavily. At the end of its growing season, gardeners can either cut the stem back to the ground or leave the plant as is.
"It just depends on how dedicated you are," she says with a laugh. "Just like the daylilies on the side of the highway thrive with little care, these will do well also."
Easter lilies pair well with perennial yarrows, coneflower or grasses such as Adagio or Cosmopolitan miscanthus, Southern Living magazine suggests for picking the lily's garden spot.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.