Hybrid Lilies

Lilies are exquisite flowers and people throughout the world have always had a high regard for them. However, it is interesting to note that these flowers have not been always as popular as they are in present times. There was a time when only the rich could afford growing lilies and take delight in their beauty. This was the era when collectors and courageous explorers sent the seeds and bulbs of lilies they obtained in Asia to either Europe or America. Lilies have established them as new, wonderful and exciting plants. However, often they are unpredictable as well. It is really unfortunate that several prized lilies only lasted for a few years. In fact, lilies attained their current reputation for their attractiveness as well as difficulty during the period between the end of the 19th century and the outbreak of the World War I.

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Precisely speaking, what may be called "the lily revolution" actually started in the 1950s, when noted horticulturist Jan de Graaff's work started making a great impact on people who loved gardening. During this period the best forms of all lily species and their hybrid were collected and an extensive hybridization program began. Large groups of newly bred lily hybrids were introduced and they turned out to be much more amazing in growth as well as reliability. In addition, their looks or beauty was also appealing. The primary breeding program involving lilies set off all over the world with the Asiatic hybrids, particularly the plants that bore upward facing blooms.

Speedy breeding, fast and trouble-free culture coupled with beautiful hues and flower forms ensured that they could be packed as well as distributed easily. All these not only ensured the success of the hybridization programs, but also made lilies the perfect cut flower. Soon several million lily plants started selling every year in nearly all European nations, Australasia and even in America. In fact, lilies turned out to be a favourite flower worldwide and were readily available in florist's shops, in addition to various other shops.

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It is interesting to note that even people with just a simple interest in gardening also bought packets containing lily bulbs or took home several potted lilies. In present times, lilies have proved to be the perfect plant for contemporary gardens and homes. The sudden flare-up in interest in growing lilies would not have occurred in case the plants continued to retain the characteristics of the original species. The breeding programs have eliminated several problems and inhibitions associated with the plant growing in the wild. As a result, today we are able to enjoy the beauty of these wonderful plants, which are considered to be among the easiest to grow.

After you have tried growing some of the Asiatic hybrids and have seen how easy it is to grow them in pots or garden, you will soon become an aficionado and will be eager to try growing more novel types and varieties. Gradually, you will be taking an active role in spreading the word about these plants bearing such wonderful flowers. Lilies come in wide assortment and this lets you to focus on any of your preferred varieties. It is possible that you would soon be exulting over the nearly awesome Orientals or soon like to introduce the long-surviving, naturalizing martagon hybrids to your garden.

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It is worth mentioning here that hybrid lilies are available as cultivars as well as mixed strains. Hence, it is possible for you to purchase a cloned cultivars like "Enchantment", whose bulbs will produce indistinguishable plants, or buy bulbs of any strain like "Citronella", which is basically a "grex" - meaning several clones having the same parentage with several common traits, but their blooms will not be identical. In fact, commercial lily growers as well as dealers are very happy to enhance both the cultivars and mixed strains and market them.

In the wild, lilies mainly propagate from their seeds and this is also the most practical means for gardeners to multiply their stocks. A number of lily cultivars are being cultivated for more than 50 years and they are still worth growing. However, maybe we should also consider as plants that undergo a natural cycle and, hence, need to be replaced after a few years. Experienced growers, especially who are growing species, are aware that some lily species naturally have a short life and, therefore, they need to be replaced continuously by raising new seedlings. On the other hand, it is worth noting that hybrids usually do not cease to exist in this manner. Nevertheless, we ought to keep them robust and attractive by replacing them from time to time. While preserving the outstanding lily varieties we already possess, we can endeavour to upgrade our collection of lilies or alter its balance.

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Division 1: Asiatic hybrids

Among all types of lilies, the Asiatic hybrids are grown most extensively in gardens across the world. These varieties of lilies are bred from the Asian species that bloom early in the season. As numerous species of early flowering Asian lily species have been used to breed the Asiatic hybrids that currently there is an unlimited variation among them, especially in the colors of their blooms, which may be soft or vivid as well as in white and the entire warm shades. In addition, Asiatic hybrids are also found in a wide variety of flower forms and plant heights.

Asiatic hybrids derive from the following species:

  • L. amabile
  • L. bulbiferum
  • L. callosum
  • L. cernuum
  • L. concolor
  • L. dauricum
  • L. davidii
  • L. lankongense
  • L. leichtlinii
  • L. pumilum
  • L. lancifolium
  • L. wilsonii

a: Upright-facing flowers.
b: Outward-facing flowers.
c: Pendent flowers.

Division 2: Martagon hybrids

The name of these lily hybrids clearly implies that they have been obtained from Lilium martagon and, to begin with, Lilium hansonii. Martagon hybrids are a relatively very small group compared to the Asiatic lilies. As it takes a considerable period for the plants to develop from seeds to flowers, about five years to seven years, the consequences for hybridizers are relatively slower. As a result, even the commercial interest in these hybrids has not been significant.

Compared to Asiatic lilies, Martagon hybrids have a somewhat different appearance. The entire plant is elegant, usually growing up to a medium or tall height and bearing nodding, Turk's cap shaped flowers and it certainly contributes to the Eastern mystery of any garden. Similar to their parent species, Martagon hybrids blossom very early in the season. These plants like partial shade and generally produce copious flowers. These plants possess the aptitude to endure alkaline soil, and they also thrive well in heavy clay and loam. Interestingly, they grow excellently in sandy soils as well. Notwithstanding the fact that Martagon hybrids have a preference for shady sites, these plants can also endure full sun. The flowers of these lilies come in an assortment of colors - white, lilac, lavender, orange, yellow, mahogany, tangerine and even brown.

The first recognized Martagon hybrid is called "Marhan" and it was created in the Netherlands way back in 1891. This lily variety is available even to this day. "Marhan" plants usually grow up to a height of 6 feet (1.8 meters) and bear spotted blooms having a very rich, orange-chestnut hue.

In addition, a cluster of hybrids were bred from Lilium martagon and Lilium hansonii and called the Backhouse hybrids. These hybrids were bred in England towards the end of the 20th century.

On the other hand, the Paisley hybrids, a cross between Lilium hansonii and Lilium martagon var. album appeared in the scene a little later. The second generation of flowers had an increased color range. Originally, their flowers appeared in shades of bronze and gold and later they expanded to incorporate oranges, yellows, white and lilac.

All the plants mentioned above are generally healthy and possess the aptitude to resist viruses. At the same time, they are resilient to extreme cold. After you have planted these lily varieties, they will grow healthily in the same place for several years.

Martagon hybrids derive from the following species:

  • L. hansonii
  • L. martagon
  • L. medeoloides
  • L. tsingtauense

Division 3: Candidum hybrids

Candidum hybrids are a very small collection, including Lilium x testaceum, also called the Nankeen lily, which is among the oldest known lily hybrids. The Lilium x testaceum was bred towards the beginning of the 19th century and is a cross between the Lilium candidum bearing trumpet-shaped blooms and Lilium chalcedonicum which bears vividly red blooms having the Turk's cap shape. In recent times, breeders have also used L. cernuum, L. henryi, L. longiflorum and L. monadelphum to make crosses with L. candidum as well as a variety of other Asiatic hybrids employing the embryo rescue methods. These hybrids grow up to a height of about 4 feet (1.2 meters) and produce large, fragrant flowers that bloom in early summer.

In 1971, some breeders crossed Lilium candidum salonikae with Lilium monadelphum to create a new hybrid called "June Fragrance". By itself this is an outstanding Candidum hybrid and bears creamy white, aromatic flowers towards the beginning of spring. In the subsequent years this plant has been utilized as a parent to produce more new hybrids.

Candidum hybrids derive from the following species:

  • L. candidum
  • L. chalcedonicum
  • L. monadelphum

Division 4: American hybrids

American hybrids are basically tall, elegant plants that have been bred by crossing Pacific Coast or western lily species native to North America. The flowers produced by these hybrids mostly have the shape of a Turk's cap. However, they are not as firmly reflexed compared to some of the species from which they are bred. Similar to martagon hybrids, American hybrids also prefer light shade and they make very beautiful woodland plants. American hybrids are usually in bloom during the period between late spring and the beginning of summer. The Bellingham hybrids which are bred from Lilium parryi, Lilium pardalinum and Lilium humboldtii var. ocellatum are the most well-know American hybrid varieties.

In 1968, noted English horticulturist Derek Fox used to breed his own Bellmaid hybrids in England. Blooms of this American hybrid appear in rich yellow hues and they darken as they age. Characteristically, these flowers are pendant having reflexed petals. Derek Fox introduced his Bullwood hybrids in 1967, thereby bringing the pink in the spectrum of colors. Plants grown from seedlings produced flowers with a peach tone as well as the other hues wherein the characteristic orange-red of many species became even richer red.

American hybrids can be bred from any of the several North American species. Most of the American hybrids that we see these days have their origin in the lilies species native to western America.

American hybrids are derived from any North American species. Present-day hybrids in this division mostly originate from the western American species:

  • L. bolanderi
  • L. humboldtii
  • L. kelloggii
  • L. pardalinum
  • L. parryi

Division 5: Longiflorum hybrids

Since long, people have cultivated Lilium longiflorum for use as cut flowers as well as to trade potted plants. While one form of Longiflorum hybrids has been linked with the name "Easter lily", currently it is not used with as much precision for majority of Lilium longiflorum forms. In due course of time, there have been, and still there are, several named forms of Longiflorum hybrids. While many of them differ owing to somewhat minor taxonomic details, at times there are also a few significant commercial Longiflorum hybrids.

Dwarf forms of Longiflorum hybrids are good for growing in pots. Even the plants with distinctive foliage can also be grown in the same manner. On the other hand, till very recently, hybridization was not a very obvious part of growing lilies. However, all these have changed to some extent now as a variety of hybrids that are somewhat similar to Lilium formosanum, which are hybrids that grow with lot of vigour and yield excellent crops of genuinely white trumpet blooms. In fact, these are of more interest to those who grow lilies commercially compared to the amateur gardeners.

All longiflorum hybrids are created by crossing various Lilium longiflorum plants.

Longiflorum hybrids are derived L. longiflorum. Most such lilies in the trade are:

  • L.longiflorum x Asiatic hybrids (Division 1)

a: Upright-facing flowers.
b: Outward-facing flowers.
c: Pendent or downward-facing flowers.

Division 6: Chinese trumpet and Aurelian hybrids

As the name suggests, this division is further divided into two groups - the pure-bred trumpets, which have been obtained by crossing trumpet species with their hybrids; and the complete assortment of lilies that have some of the traits of the tough species like Lilium henryi in their breeding. In fact, the Lilium henryi is considered to be the anti-thesis or reverse of the trumpets, in their form and they are a totally different type of plant.

Plants that are known as pure trumpet hybrids have originated from several different species. The pure trumpet hybrids found grown in the gardens in places having temperate climatic conditions have been bred from Lilium regale, Lilium brownie, Lilium leucanthum, Lilium sargentiae and Lilium sulphureum. A number of lily species like Lilium sargentiae and Lilium sulphureum have never been seen in large numbers in gardens because these plants are very susceptible to infections by viruses.

The de Graff breeders created Lilium leucanthum centifolium in large numbers and implemented a meticulous selection process with a view to retain only the plants that seemed stronger and had flowers with wide petals in an inflorescence that was distinct and pyramid-shaped. This is considered to be a main advancement in breeding lilies. During this period, breeders also intensified the inner white as well as the deep purplish-mahogany buds. The selected varieties were subsequently mated with Lilium brownie, Lilium sulphureum and Lilium sargentiae. Initially, the selected offsprings were sold as Centifolium hybrids. However, in 1955, they were renamed and launched as the Olympic hybrids, which comprised a collection of beautiful trumpets that covered the entire hues including white, yellow, cream, lime and pink. Examining the hybrids that produced white blooms resulted in further selection as well as re-selection that ended with the "Black Magic" strain producing large white-hued flowers having dark reverses. During this period, breeders cloned one plant and introduced it as "Black Dragon".

In fact, the Royal Gold series is considered to be the most successful among all yellow trumpets. Sometimes plants of this series are marketed in the form of "the golden regale". A plant bearing yellow flowers was the biological ancestor of the Royal Gold series. This yellow-flowered plant appeared on the de Graaff farms in the midst of a block of the straight Lilium regale. It was believed that Lilium sulphureum may possible had a role in the parentage of the yellow-flowered plant and be the palpable reason for deluging the entire flower with the yellow pigment. Without doubt, the original plant as well as the strain raised from it has an appearance that is very similar to that of the Lilium regale stock.

It is interesting to note that several individuals having petals with pink veining and/ or margins emerged from the progeny of the two cross L. sargentiae x L. regale as well as from sets of L. leucanthum centifolium. These plants were collected and inter-bred. All of a sudden, pink flowers were developed and they turned out to be the source for the strain called Pink Perfection. However, it is still unclear whether such breaking of reticence on the color zoning of lilies with pink blooms was owing to any natural mutation, introduction of Aurelian hybrid pollens by accident or genetic material re-combination. In fact, Aurelian hybrids with their Lilium henryi lineage are free from any zoning inhibition.

The fact is that introduction of genetic material from Lilium henryi facilitated the breeders to develop a greater assortment of lilies that later proved to be extremely resilient as well as adjustable to a wide variety of conditions prevailing in different gardens.

It became necessary to classify the Aurelians owing to their altering forms. As a result, the trumpet division was divided into four classes and recently these have been modified to allow them to be distinguished by their respective forms of flowers.

Chinese trumpet and Aurelian hybrids are derived from the following Chinese species with purple bulbs:

  • L.leucanthum
  • L. regale
  • L. sargentiae
  • L. sulphureum
  • L. henryi

a: Upright-facing flowers.
b: Outward-facing flowers.
c: Downward-facing flowers.

Division 7: Oriental hybrids

The beauty of the glorious Oriental lilies is not only striking, but it is unparalleled. This is not only true in the world of lilies, but the entire flowers worldwide. The usual Oriental hybrid plant flowers late in the season and comes with broad leaves that appear alternatively on the stem. Usually, the flowers are large and ostentatious. The flowers are flat, bowl-shaped or reflexed. Most Oriental hybrid flowers have a potent, sweet aroma.

While creating Oriental hybrids, breeders seek the same dominant traits that are necessary for any other lily - vigor, resilience to diseases, ability to endure viruses - the aptitude to grow healthily and not show any symptoms even after being infected by a virus. Before crossing the plants, you need to ensure that the plants you have selected as parents possess the above mentioned properties. It is important to bear in mind that no one can expect to be successful overnight, as many generations were needed to get rid of the unwanted traits and produce the superior form of Oriental hybrids that we see today.

One of the noted Oriental hybrids is called "Empress of Japan". This hybrid bears huge blooms that have red spots along with gold bands. This novel plant has been derived by crossing "Jillian Wallace" with Lilium x parkmannii, thereby completing the Empress series. However, unlike other clones, "Empress of Japan" did not possess the ability to tolerate virus and, hence, the plants were very susceptible to infections.

In addition, even the Potomac hybrids were well-known. This hybrid was created by Samuel L. Emsweller. These hybrids were developed by crossing an original cross Lilium auratum x Lilium speciosum var. punctatum with Lilium speciosum.

Oriental hybrids derive from the following species:

  • L. alexandrae
  • L. auratum
  • L. japonicum
  • L. nobilissimum
  • L. rubellum
  • L. speciosum

a: Upright-facing flowers.
b: Outward-facing flowers.
c: Downward-facing flowers.

Division 8: Orienpet hybrids

Orienpet hybrids are a relatively new hybrid group that have been derived by crossing Orientals with Aurelians or Trumpets. These hybrids actually blend the beauty and aroma of the Orientals with the adaptability feature and colors of the Trumpets. In places where the temperatures are very high for Orientals to succeed, you can easily grow the Orienpet hybrids. These lilies usually start blooming about anything between three and four weeks following the Asiatic lilies. Orienpet hybrids not only thrive well, but also perform excellently in gardens across the United States from coast to coast. In Canada, lily growers are very enthusiastic about Orienpet hybrids in the cold Prairie Provinces, as the success rate there appears to be high. However, mulching is necessary to protect the plants from the severe cold during the winter months.

Petals of several Orienpet hybrid flowers are deeply reflexed with colors of Oriental lilies. The color as well as character of other Orienpet hybrid flowers is similar to those of the regale lilies, but their petals are outward and open. Most Orienpet hybrids are large plants usually growing up to a height of anything between 6.5 feet and 8 feet (2 meters to 2.5 meters) and they produce about 20 to 60 flowers that are really thrilling during the summer weeks. However, it is unfortunate that as of now, Orienpet hybrids as a collection are not satisfactorily fertile. However, several crosses do develop embryos with no endosperm. Therefore, it has been found that the Orienpets greatly benefit from the embryo culture technique.

Generally, Orienpet hybrids are very hardy and produce beautiful flowers. The "Northern Carillon", "Northern Sensation", "Scheherazade", "Starburst Sensation", "Leslie Woodriff" and "Silk Road" are among the most notable Orienpet lilies.

Orienpet hybrids are derived from the crossing of species and hybrids from Division 6 and Division 7.

a: Upright-facing flowers.
b: Outward-facing flowers.
c: Downward-facing flowers.

Division 9: Species

When we talk of species we refer to the entire true species as well as their various botanical varieties.

Division 10: Miscellaneous hybrids

Miscellaneous hybrids are described as all hybrids that are not included in the divisions discussed above.


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