feature story


The latest developments and what’s soon to be sprouting in fields around the world.

What’s not to love about lilies? There’s the lavishly large blooms and powerful fragrance of Orientals, the intensely colorful array of Asiatics and the old-fashioned charm of the mildly fragrant Easter (longiflorum) lily. But imagine how wonderful a lily could be if all of these fabulous features could be combined into one exquisite flower. That very crop may be sprouting in a greenhouse in years to come, and in the meantime, Holland’s best lily hybridizers have created some wonderful products that are available here and now.

straight to the source
In May 2007, Florists’ Review President Frances Dudley, AAF, and Publisher Talmage McLaurin, AIFD, traveled to the Netherlands to attend the fabulous Keukenhof lily show, billed as the largest lily show in the world, where hybridizers showcase their newest developments. As Mr. McLaurin points out, some of these new hybrids may be years away from filling the buckets at your favorite wholesale house, but they make a spectacular premiere at Keukenhof each year.
The visit, sponsored by the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center (NFBIC) and hosted by NFBIC’s U.S. director, Sally Ferguson, also included tours of facilities for lily bulb hybridizing, growing and forcing. (See box for more details on these roles.) During these visits, Mrs. Dudley and Mr. McLaurin learned about what’s new and what’s to come in the future.

  different types of lily developers

Hybridizers develop new flower varieties through cross-pollination. Most of the world’s bulb hybridizers are in Holland.

Growers produce the actual bulb, which is supplied to flower growers. Most bulbs are grown in Holland (Ms. Stap says at least 80 percent of the world’s supply); some are grown in other countries under strict licensing guidelines.

Forcers grow flowers by replicating the conditions required for the bulbs to grow and bloom. Forcers operate around the world, most notably in the United States, Costa Rica and Ecuador.


how lilies are born
Mieke Stap, former project manager for the International Flower Bulb Center, who led the 2007 tour, explains that all lilies start from seeds, which are produced in pods after the lily flower itself dies. From these seeds, bulbs are grown.
Through traditional breeding methods, requiring flower production, cross-pollination and subsequent bulb reproduction, new lily varieties would take 15 to 20 years to produce. But lilies, unlike tulips, can be reproduced in labs using tissue culture, and Ms. Stap reports that this high-tech reproduction method can enable new lily bulbs to go from the lab to commercial availability in just three to five years.
Despite the advances in bulb production, the job of the hybridizer, who develops new breeds through cross-pollination, still remains a challenge. “It’s a common expression here that only one in 1 million bulbs makes the final cut to become a commercially produced flower. Although it’s just an expression and not actual data,” Ms. Stap explains, “it’s true that good hybridizers end up throwing away most of their work. Only one or two new flowers will survive.”

man-made groups
In nature, about 100 lily species exist, and since mankind first began creating our own through manual pollination, four groups of lilies have emerged. Today, these groups are known as Orientals, Asiatics, longiflorums (Easter lilies) and trumpets (also known as aurelians). “[In the early 1990s],” recalls Ms. Stap, “hybridizers began crossing the groups to develop new groups,” combining the best features of each to achieve flowers that have all the qualities that growers, forcers, distributors and consumers desire.
The first of those efforts, the LA hybrid (a combination of the longiflorum and Asiatic groups) became commercially available about 10 years ago. This first effort yielded a bloom similar to an Easter lily yet bigger and in a full spectrum of fabulous colors. According to Ms. Stap, demand is trending away from traditional Asiatics and toward the newer LA.
More recently, a new type to hit the market, derived from crossing Orientals and trumpets, is the OT hybrid. Ms. Stap reports that the most attractive quality of the OT is that it combines the fragrance of the Oriental with the spectacular array of colors of the trumpet. OT hybrids are a bit like Asiatics in their color palette—well beyond the typical pinks and whites of Orientals—but have a sweet fragrance, which, by many accounts, is somewhat milder than that of Orientals. Like its LA predecessor, demand for it is expected to overtake that of the traditional Oriental.
In the works is LO, a longiflorum and Oriental cross. Ms. Stap says it’s quite similar to OT but, with somewhat smaller blooms than Oriental, should be easier to pack and ship. Although there currently is no LO acreage in production, Ms. Stap predicts that numerous LO varieties will be on the market within five years.
The next prize on which hybridizers have their hopes set is a combination of the new OT with the LA. “It’s not being seriously pursued now,” Ms. Stap confides, “but hybridizers will try if they think there’s some benefit.”

  OT lily varieties available now from Sun Valley


Photos courtesy of The Sun Valley Group. To see more of their newest lilies, visit www.thesunvalleygroup.com.



OTs in America
Mike Crosby, national wholesale sales manager for The Sun Valley Group, says that supply of his company’s OT lilies, marketed as Sun Valley’s Sonata® Series, is somewhat limited. However, at any given time during the year, at least some OT varieties are available. “This is our third year growing OTs, and it takes some time to establish significant quantities,” he explains. Nevertheless, you need only try them to like them.
“OTs are the longest-lasting of all, offering at least two weeks of vase life,” notes Mr. Crosby. “And they’re available in many new colors, including a true peach (‘Gluhwein’), which was never available in an Oriental.”
Mr. Crosby also reports that while some varieties, such as ‘Triumphator’ and ‘Prince Promise’, are somewhat trumpet shaped, even after opening, other OT varieties open with broad blooms like Orientals. ‘Shocking’, which he says is aptly named due to its bold color, is one example.
Despite all the new colors and intriguing forms offered in the OT lily, and with perhaps a milder fragrance, Mr. Crosby says the price is comparable to that of Orientals.
If the LO proves useful, or if hybridizers achieve the true super flower with an LA x OT combination, it’s a sure bet that inventive suppliers such as The Sun Valley Group will participate in bringing them to the market. “We always want the newest products because that stimulates interest,” assures Mr. Crosby. Florists’ Review will continue to share the latest cut flower developments as well.

  home-grown winners

• Americans consumed an estimated 179.3 million stems of lilies in 2006, well over half (63.1 percent or 113 million stems) of which was grown in American soil.

• In 2006, most of America’s cut lily crop was grown in California. Most imports originated in Costa Rica and Ecuador, with 24.9 million and 15.1 million stems respectively.

Why are American growers succeeding with lilies?
Several possible causes exist for why American-grown lilies greatly outnumber their imported counterparts. Perhaps shipping lilies from far-reaching ports is too costly, or it could be that the tremendous quality—in terms of bloom size, vase life, stem length and stem strength—of cut lilies produced here diminishes the need for off-shore sources. Most likely, both factors play a role and, together, should ensure a strong future for America’s lily growers.

Sources: USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.



Photos by Rob Cardillo, Rob Cardillo Photography, courtesy of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center.

You may contact Shelley Urban by e-mail at surban@floristsreview.com or by phone at (800) 367-4708.

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