It's Easter! Happy Easter to you if you celebrate it and if you don't I hope you are enjoying a lovely Sunday.
Easter is the perfect time to talk about one of my favourite flowers - the lily - because it is the flower most associated with this occasion.
After being completely inspired by this week’s Petal Post delivery that boasted some glorious oriental lilies, I was motivated to learn more about them, especially about why Easter is associated with this beautiful flower beyond the fact that they are prevalent in the northern hemisphere in spring. Being a history nerd and a flower nerd, this floated my boat completely, but as I recognise that not every flower lover feels the same way about history, I have decided to summarise some of the more interesting facts . . .
So here goes – the top 10 interesting (to me) facts about lilies
1. There are more than 90 species of lily! More than 90! (That rocked my world – I could barely name 5!) And the Calla (or Arum) lily isn’t one of them – Calla lilies are from the Araceae family not lileae, so aren’t true lilies.
2. As mentioned above, the Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) is associated with the religious aspect of Easter (as opposed to the chocolate aspect) as it is believed to represent the ascension.
3. In Australia, Easter lilies aren’t called Easter lilies – because they aren’t around at Easter. We call them November lilies or trumpet lilies, because – can you guess? – they flower in spring (November) and look a bit like a trumpet! Astounding, I know. Despite this, even down here, we associate Easter with the lily. PS, they are also sometimes called Bermuda or Christmas lilies (because three names isn't enough).
4. Lilies have a looooooong history. In Greek mythology, they are associated with the goddess Hera (& Juno in Roman mythology). In bronze age Europe (c.2000BC), Minoan sarcophagi in Crete were decorated with images of the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum) and there is evidence that tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium) have been grown in China since at least 800BC and in Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are often (still) placed on alters.
5. Like the Easter lily, the Madonna lily is also associated with Christianity, representing purity. Reportedly, Mary’s tomb was filled to the brim with them.
6. Continuing with the death theme, the lily is a flower commonly associated with funerals – and not just because their meaning is associated with purity and innocence. No, apparently lilies were originally used for funerals because their strong fragrance masked the distinctive odour of decomposition of the body. Nice.
7. Beyond their fragrance (which is commonly used in the perfume industry) they have a functional use in herbal medicine - the bulb has been used as a poultice to ease topical conditions such as shingles, due to its anti-inflammatory activity.
8. Lilies were introduced to the UK from Japan, via Bermuda, in 1819. Soon after, in the Victorian era, their stamens and pistils were apparently considered so conspicuously sexual they were removed from the flowers in churches.
9. As beautiful as they are, they can be deadly. Common lilies are extremely toxic to cats and ingestion (even through licking) of any part – leaves, stem, petals, stamens and pollen – can be fatal.
10. The last – and my favourite – fact about the lily, is that it was my grandmother’s name and she was a beauty too. That’s probably where my love of this flower started and the reason I chose to have a Fleur-de-lis (a stylized lily) tattoo.
That’s all pretty interesting I think! They are so much more than their beautiful appearance! I hope you enjoyed this little history session!