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African Queen, Part 1: Family of Origin


It turns out I know less about trumpet lilies than I thought.

I mean, I’ve grown  four or five varieties successfully, most in containers. Although they were often not successful enough to bloom for more than one year, or to survive a transplant.

But beautiful fragrant ‘African Queen’ has bloomed so obligingly for me for the last three years. A totally delicious flower. I wanted to meet her family.


As families often are, it was more complicated than I’d imagined.

But first, let’s take a look at one of the reasons why lilies are such good value, even if they flower only once.


The bird-beak-like buds of African Queen offer beautiful color and suspense (when will they start opening?) for at least a week before the blooms (even in hot weather). They are so long, it’s hard to fit one in a camera frame.


OK. Now a little more about how this beautiful flower came into being.

Lilium henryii is the source of the orange color in the line of trumpet lilies that includes African Queen, Copper King, and the selection called Anaconda.

The other side of the family is a Chinese trumpet lily that emigrated to France. E. Debras, a plant-breeder in Orleans, took pollen from L. henryii and dusted it on that species trumpet lily, Lilium sargentiae.

Alas, the marriage proved infertile. But Debras was persistent; year after year he made the cross, and years later (in 1925) he finally got two viable seeds. One seedling died; the other went on to become the founder of a whole new dynasty. He named it L. x Aurelianense, after his town of Orleans.

So I finally found out what an Aurelian lily really is! Later in the century, Oregon Bulb Farms had a massive breeding program involving Aurelian lilies, trumpet lilies, and L. henryii. This created the first yellow Aurelian, ‘Golden Clarion’. And went on to come up with the African Queen strain, the first orange trumpets: African Queen, Copper King, and Anaconda.

Next post: African Queen: Secret Passions.


F.F. Rockwell and Esther C. Grayson and Jan de Graaff, The Complete Book of Lilies, Doubleday & Co., 1961

Jan de Graaff and Edward Hyams, Lilies, Funk & Wagnalls, 1968

Edward Austin McRae, Lilies, Timber Press, 1998

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs summer-flowering bulbs catalogue, 2008 (they are also my source of African Queen lilies)

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