When most people think of lilies, their minds immediately jump to Easter.
While it’s true that this Christian holiday deserves a lot of credit for making the lily as famous as it is today, this flower actually has a lot of secret talents, hidden history, and amazing qualities that helped it earn its fame.
From Greek mythology to cat poison, let’s take a look at what makes this gorgeous flower so special.
Purity, Innocence, and Fertility
According to Greek mythology, the lily came from the breast milk of Hera–Zeus’s wife–and gained its yellow pistil when Venus, the goddess of beauty, got angry that it was purer than her. This story trickled into many other religions of the time, including Christianity, and the lily became known all over the world as a representation of fertility and purity.
The lily stayed local to the Middle East and Asia for many years, until European explorer Augustine Henry discovered it on a voyage to China. So enamored by the beautiful form and symbolism of the plant, legend has it that he switched the entire focus of his studies from medical botany to simply discovering as many lily varieties as possible. Today, the popular Henry lily is named after him, but his impact was much wider than just that one discovery; as the first one to bring lilies to the western world, he gets much of the credit for how well-known the flower has become.
Easter Lilies vs Eastern Lilies
One of the biggest reasons Henry deserves a thank-you is the tradition of Easter Lilies. In the Christian faith, the most popular religion in America, it is traditional to display large lilies in front of the altar, stage, or pulpit of every church during the Easter season. These flowers pay a tribute to Jesus Christ, who Christians believe rose from the dead to secure their salvation, with their bulb representing his burial and its trumpet shape signifying the call to rebirth and new life that Jesus issued to his followers.
In addition the Easter lily, tiger lilies are also a popular variety of the plant. Discovered by Carl Linnaeus, one of the most famous botanists of all time, their name comes from their signature stripes, which mimic the pattern of stripes on a tiger’s back. They’re more than just a pretty face, however; tiger lilies are widely used in Asian cooking and Eastern medicine, and they traditionally stand for wealth and prosperity.
Growing (And Using!) Your Own Lilies
The lily has lots of practical applications in medicine today–unless you’re a cat, in which case eating a lily is actually deadly due to certain chemicals in the plant’s pistil. For humans, on the other hand, lilies are widely used to treat mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, and some studies suggest that smelling lilies can lead to decreased aggressive behavior in people with anger issues.
With all of these amazing health benefits, it’s especially helpful to know that lilies are one of the easiest flowers to grow in a home garden. Bulbs allow for easy planting, and lilies are perennials, meaning they will continue to come back for years and years even if you don’t plant any new flowers. They do need lots of sun, though, so make sure that you are strategic with your plant placement.
Whether you want to plant lilies for health, spiritual, or cultural reasons, their convenient growth patterns make it easy to follow in the footsteps of Augustine Henry and fall in love with the flower. Between their cultural significance, beauty, and diverse history, lilies are one of the most iconic flowers you could possibly plant in your yard.