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Floral Occasions & Holidays, Rituals and Traditions

The History of the Easter Lily & How It Became the Most Popular Easter Flower

March 17, 2020

Easter is almost here, and there’s only one flower that can really capture the sacred spirit of the holiday: the Easter lily! The pure white color of this blossom has long symbolized the purity, hope and new life of spring, and its beautiful trumpet shape makes it the perfect herald for the fresh new season. So it’s no wonder it’s become one of the most popular blooms to decorate homes and churches with during this time of year. But how did this pretty little flower come to be associated with (and even named after) Easter? Here’s the full history of the Easter lily, for you to read while you dress up your home in its Sunday best!

How the Easter Lily Came to the U.S.

The Easter lily was officially discovered in 1777 by Swedish naturalist Carl Peter Thunberg in the Ryukyu Islands of Japan. After its discovery, the flower made its way to England in 1819 and then arrived at Bermuda in the mid-1800s. It was then named the “Bermuda lily,” but its name was eventually changed to “Easter lily” when the spring-blooming flower was brought to Philadelphia and popularized there as an Easter blossom. A virus destroyed the Easter lily’s production on the island of Bermuda, making Japan the flower’s largest producer once again.

It wasn’t until World War I that the Easter lily started being produced in the United States. When soldier Louis Houghton first saw the flower, he was so captivated by it that he brought a suitcase full of bulbs back to his home state of Oregon in 1919. Houghton started handing out the lilies to his friends, who also happened to be horticulture experts.

As a result, large-scale production of the flower spread across the West Coast of the U.S., and by 1945 more than 1,000 growers in Oregon and California were producing the bulbs, earning the region the title of “Easter Lily Capitol of the World.” Today, Oregon and California grow 95 percent of all Easter lilies. Easter lilies are now one of the most popular potted plants in the U.S., ranking with poinsettias, mums and azaleas.

Easter Lilies With Cross VaseThe Easter Lily and Christianity

Known to Christians as the “white-robed apostle of hope,” the Easter lily has also been a religious symbol since the birth of the Christian religion. The flower is even mentioned in the Bible quite a few times. It is said that when Eve shed tears of remorse as she and Adam left the Garden of Eden, white lilies sprang up where her tears fell.

Easter lilies are also admired as a symbol of motherhood and the Virgin Mary. In artwork, she is often depicted receiving a bundle of white lilies from the angel Gabriel at Jesus’ birth, and the flowers were said to have been found in her tomb after her death.

The most famous biblical reference to the Easter lily is when Jesus told his followers, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: They toil not, neither do they spin; and yet … Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” It’s also believed that the lilies grew where Jesus’ sweat and tears fell to the ground during his crucifixion. Many churches today continue the long-held tradition and commemorate the resurrection of Jesus by adorning their altars with pure white Easter lilies.

So whether you’re buying it as a gift for a friend or using it to decorate your own home, the Easter lily is certainly the most stunning and meaningful way to celebrate on Easter Sunday.

How will you be incorporating Easter lilies into your celebration this Sunday?

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