6 Facts about Lilies
Lilies are one of the world’s most popular flowers. Whilst roses are the flower of passion, a lily is the flower of purity. Lilies have been used for inspiration in religious iconography, songs, literature and as a sweet girl’s name.
1. The origin of the lily
Lilies are flowers that originated in the northern hemisphere. Many varieties are common in the United States and England. The lily grows from bulbs. They lie dormant in winter waiting for the spring and summer to return so that they can burst into brilliant blooms to delight the senses.
2. November lilies
November lilies are a species of lily popular in Australia. They are called November lilies because they bloom in November in the southern hemisphere. These lilies are natives of Japan and Taiwan. In the northern hemisphere, they are often called Easter lilies.
During World War 2, the lilies became rare in the United States, especially after Pearl Harbour when war was declared between America and Japan.
3. The lily in food and medicine
Lilies can be used as food or for their medicinal qualities. The Chinese use lily buds in cookery to flavour stir fries. They also use it as a medicine for respiratory problems. Native Americans have used lily roots boiled as a tea for stomach problems and as a wash for bruises. They also used it to relieve the pain from insect bites.
4. The lily in Christian iconography
A white lily is often seen in Christian iconography. The flower is often used in pictures of saints. Two saints who are often seen with lilies are St Anthony of Padua and St Joseph, Mary’s husband. St Anthony, the patron saint of lost objects, is traditionally pictured holding a white lily in his hand. This is a symbol of his purity. St Joseph is seen as holding a staff with lilies springing from its tip. This is due to a story that Mary chose her husband by collecting the staffs of eligible bachelors. She chose Joseph when flowers bloomed from the top of his staff.
5. The fleur de lys
The fleur de lys of France and French speaking nations is another example of lily iconography. The fleur de lys is said to originate from the tears of Eve when she was banished from the garden of Eden. An alternative explanation is that it came from the virgin Mary who gave it to an ancestor of the French king. The symbol signifies the divine right of kings.
6. Lilies in literature and song
The lily has been used as a symbol of purity in literature and song for centuries. Shakespeare used it to contrast with the passionate love symbolised with roses. Emily Dickinson and William Blake also used lily imagery in their poetry.
The most famous lily in contemporary literature is Lily Potter, Harry’s mother. Mrs Potter sacrificed her life to save Harry from Voldemort. Her sacrifice is represented as the ultimate act of love in the Harry Potter series.
There are several songs that use lily in the title. ‘Lily Marleen’ was a famous German song that was popular in World War 2, ‘pictures of Lily’ is a risqué song by The Who, and the Smashing Pumpkins also sang a song called simply ‘Lily.’
Lilies are beautiful flowers with a rich history in iconography, song and literature. They were used as herbal remedies and are a wonderful addition to a garden or a precious gift in a bouquet.