The latest developments and what’s soon to be sprouting in fields around
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
develop new flower varieties through cross-pollination. Most of
the world’s bulb hybridizers are in Holland.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
• 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
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
You may contact Shelley Urban by
email@example.com or by phone at (800) 367-4708.