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Lilium cernuum album


I’ve decided—a little arbitrarily–that this is the type of lily I dug up and refrigerated in my last installment. I based my decision on foliage, and on the fact that the anemic lilies in the other, identical pot, have bulbils in their axils, which is a typical tiger lily thing, which (I hope) means that the other pot has Lilium cernuum in it. At least, I’m going to go with the cultural directions for Lilium cernuum album,  and if all goes well, I’ll have proof. If all doesn’t go well, I won’t have proof, but that’s gardening–and scientific inquiry–in a nutshell.

Actually, I think gardeners can more easily say that they’ve achieved proof. With science, another variable can always come along. But once you’ve grown, flowered, and identified a lily, it’s pretty tough to argue the point further. Until DNA testing proves that this lily is really a subspecies, or related to another lily, and then the lumpers and splitters are at it again. and we all have to learn new Latin names.

There isn’t a common name for this lily, as far as I know, so Latin-spurners will just have to ignore the binomials and move on.  It is  blush-pink (album means “white”, but horticulturalists, as Tony Avent of Plant Delights so truly says, are color-blind), a fragrant, head-hanging lily that hails from the Diamond Mountains of Korea.

Europeans have known about it since about 1910. McRae puts a well-grown Lilium cernuum (the deeper pink lily that L. cernuum album is a variation of) at about 3 to 4 feet (90 to 120 cm), but Brent and Becky’s lists it as Lilium cernum, a dwarf of 12 to 24 inches (about 30 to 60 cm). Mine stuck to the smaller height, but since they were lolling over the side of the container, obviously unhealthy, it’s hard to know what this signifies. Rockwell, Grayson, and de Graaff recommend Lilium cernuum for fragrance, cutting, and hybridizing. They do not recommend it for beginners or containers, facts I intend to ignore.

Deciding that I’m going to treat my dug-up lilies as L. cernuum album is a big deal in terms of their care. I’ve spoken before of the way species bulbs develop very particular tastes, so they can grow in very particular places. It turns out that, according to Ed McRae, these lilies don’t like water in summer, and prefer full sun.

“The bulbs must remain relatively dry following flowering; wet conditions in late summer are disastrous. In the wild, these lilies grow in sandy loam, alluvial, or rocky soils among grasses or shrubs, usually in full sun but sometimes in light shade.  I grew the species very successfully in a field of volcanic soil near Parkdale, Oregon at 700 meters (2300 feet) ; the plant was breathtaking in its sheer beauty, with stems reaching 90 to 120 centimeters ( (3 to 4 feet) in height and an average of 8 flowers per stem.”

I had my lilies in semi-shade; they fell over in the container, pale and reaching for sun, which did give me a tiny hint that they needed more light. I also had them in a self-watering container which kept them moist all summer, something I thought all lilies except madonna lilies liked.

Not necessarily, it turns out.

It also turns out that it pays to read more than one resource when you’re looking up plant care. “L. cernuum does well in full sun and does not seem to have any special requirements,” trills the usually reliable Complete Book of Lilies. It just goes to show that you can’t trust anyone all of time. Because either Ed McRae is off, or Rockwell, Grayson, and de Graaff are.

All of them are respected (in the case of de Graaff, you could say “venerated”) in the lily world. Their different kinds of counsel have to do with their own experience. If they arrive at different conclusions, it’s because of different experience. This is why you can never trust anybody all of the time: their experience will often be different from yours.

So I’m creating my own L. cernuum album experience, based on what I now know.  I’m relying on Ed McRae’s story pretty heavily, mainly because he gives such particular descriptions of how it worked for him. And also because while Jan de Graaff also grew lilies in Oregon, Grayson and Rockwell grew theirs on Long Island and Cape Cod, a very different kind of environment from my own.

And also because I have never gotten these lilies to actually flower, and I’ve had them for somewhere between three and five years. I’m in the mood for something drastic.

I’ll plant the Lilium cernuum album in a pot where they won’t get summer water-maybe in with the naked ladies. Or maybe not: neither of them may like the competition. In any case, I’ll have to either water the minute I plant, or keep the lilies in my refrigerator until the fall rains settle in.  I’ll probably underplant them with some low-slung spring ephemerals that don’t want summer water, either (hm. I wonder if I can fit in small bulbs and poppies).

The other thing I plan to do is add extra minerals to the soil . McRae’s description of their native growing conditions, and of his own experiments in volcanic soil, show that they do well where there is rock available to them. I might gather some creek rock and sand, which will also help drainage, and I have mineral amendments that I can add extra dashes of.

And this year I plan to put all my bulbs on a strict regimen of calcium–but more about that another time.


Edward Austin McRae, Lilies,  Timber Press, 1998, 2001. Quote pg. 124

Brent and Becky’s catalogue, Fall 2008

F.F. Rockwell, Esther C. Grayson, Jan de Graaff, The Complete Book of Lilies, Doubleday & Company, 1961. Quote pg. 235

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Nancy Bond October 30, 2008, 7:52 pm

    Pomona, your posts are always so informative. Good luck with the lilies.

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