Dear Readers, there can be few flowers that are as spectacular as the Oriental Lily, and I was gifted some last week when I retired from work. They are extraordinary blooms: some people think that they smell of plastic but these particular ones seem to have a deeply spicy scent, with more than a touch of cloves about them. Interestingly, when a lily that looked like the Stargazer but had no scent was developed, the breeder went out of business, so clearly those who like the scent are in the majority.
The pollen is poisonous to cats – if it gets onto the fur and the cat licks it off, it can cause kidney failure. Fortunately, my elderly cat can no longer be bothered to jump onto anything higher than the sofa, so I can enjoy my lilies without having to worry.
Stargazers are a specific form of the Oriental Lily – they appeared for the first time in 1974 by California breeder Leslie Woodriff. Woodriff wanted to create a flower that looked upwards, rather than drooping like so many lilies. The original Stargazer lily was mostly pink in colour, as in the photo below, but since then pure white and pink-tinged varieties have been bred. I rather like the delicacy of my pale pink flowers. Plus, do you think there’s the merest touch of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ about the one below? It looks very slightly hairy to me, which is a little off-putting.
Although they look so delicate and exotic, Stargazer lilies are reputed to be relatively easy to grow. Easy, that is, until this little chap comes along.
I think that these are very attractive-looking beetles in their livery of red and black, and note the little indentations in their wing cases (elytra), as if someone has picked them over with a tiny sharp stick. Alas, their larvae eat the leaves of all lily and fritillary species, and they can make short work of your prize specimens. In Europe, the beetle larvae are preyed upon by a variety of parasitic wasps, which helps to keep things in some kind of balance. In North America, however (where they were imported in garden soil) there are no predators at all, and so they are more of a nuisance if you like growing lilies.
Incidentally, a distressed lily beetle can let out a loud squeak if it feels threatened by rubbing its legs together, which may be enough to deter an eager bird (or even an eager gardener). It can also play dead (known as ‘thanatosis’), which is a popular tactic in the invertebrate world.
Back to our lilies.
One thing that lilies illustrate rather beautifully is the way that plants reproduce.
- Stigma – this is the tip of the female part of the plant. This is often sticky, and this is the spot where the flower will receive pollen, either from a passing bee or other pollinator, or blown in the wind. Note that it’s held high above the pollen-producing organs – this lessens the chance that the plant will be self-pollinated. Some stigma are also able to reject pollen which is too closely related, or which is from the same plant.
- Style – this is the tube down which the pollen will pass in order to connect with the ovule, which is deep in the heart of the plant. Once there, germination will occur and a seed will be created.
- Anthers – these are the parts of the plant that produce pollen and, together with the filaments (4) which support them form the stamen, usually considered to be the male part of the plant. Lilies produce a lot of pollen, as anyone who has tried to wash it out of a white teeshirt will concur.
- Filament (see above).
- Tepal – in many plants, you get petals and sepals – the sepals are the green protective parts that surround the petals when they are developing in the bud, and which are found at the base of the flower once it opens. Lilies, however, don’t have any differentiation between the petal and sepal, so their petals are called tepals. Simples! And if you think there’s a poem in all this, you’re probably right.
In the Victorian Language of Flowers, lilies were said to represent love and affection for your loved ones, so I am especially touched to have received a whole bunch of them from my workmates. They are also associated with funerals (which may be another reason why they’re sometimes disliked), but as they are meant to show that the soul of the deceased has been returned to a state of innocence I think they are wholly appropriate.
And finally, as usual, a poem. There’s something about this short poem by Ben Jonson that I’ve always liked – each line a new image, and the whole thing so sensual and full of life. He might have been a man of the 16th and 17th centuries (1573 – 1637) but he knew how to live, did our Ben.
Have You Seen
but a Bright Lily Grow”
Have you seen but a bright lily grow
Before rude hands have touched it?
Have you marked but the fall of snow
Before the soil hath smutched it?
Have you felt the wool of beaver,
Or swan’s down ever?
Or have smelt o’ the bud o’ the brier,
Or the nard in the fire?
Or have tasted the bag of the bee?
O so white, O so soft, O so sweet is she!