All About Lilies – History, Meaning, Facts, Care & More

All About Lilies

A hand bouquet of lilies makes a suitable gift for any occasion. Lilies can be a part of a wedding bouquet or as birthday flowers, funeral flowers, for Easter, graduation, Mother’s Day, and for celebrating friendship. Lilies are often planted in backyard gardens too because they bloom every year and are some of the most long-lasting flowers that are also low-maintenance. If you’re a fan of the lily flower, read on to brush up on your knowledge on lilies.

Description of Lilies

The lily flower is grown from the seeds, bulb, or in vitro for hybrid flowers. It grows in the temperate climate of Asian countries but can also be found in North America, southern Canada, and across Europe. Lilies are perennial plants so they can survive in woodland and grassland habitats.


Lilium is the botanical name of the lily flower and there are over 100 different species worldwide. Some flowers are named lilies but are not true lilies such as lilies of the valley, fire lilies, calla lilies, peruvian lilies, peace lilies, daylilies, and water lilies. Popular true include the stargazer lily, easter lily, madonna lily, tiger lily, and Casa Blanca lily are often found in floral arrangements at your local florist shop.


True lilies are quite hardy and have leafy stems and narrow leaves. The lily flowers can grow solo or with a cluster of 3 to 5 blooms, each with five overlapping scales. The bulbs are also scaly. It is often trumpet-like in shape while others have a curved back, or cup-shaped. Depending on the species, lilies can grow between 1 to 8 feet in height. Most white lilies and the tiger lily are scented while other colored-varieties are unscented.


History of Lilies

The lily flower has long been part of civilization and is one of the oldest cultivated plants. From the earliest known civilization of Sumeria in modern-day south Mesopotamia has left relics with carvings of lilies and lily fields on tablets. In Crete, Greece, a painting of a lily dated 1580 B.C. was also discovered. The Greek word for lily is “leiron” which in Greek mythology is the milk of Hera, wife of Zeus. He wanted Hercules to drink the milk of Hera and as he did, the milk dropped to the earth and the lily flower sprouted. Venus the Greek goddess of beauty is said to have caused the huge pistil to grow in the center out of jealousy.


The Easter lily was popularized as a floral arrangement during easter celebration. It is native to the Ryukyu Islands in Japan and was brought to the United States by a World War I soldier named Louis Houghton. Today it is a flower symbolic of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.


During the second millenium B.C., people in Asia Minor utilized the bulb of Madonna lilies for medicinal purposes. In the Middle Ages period, white lilies (Madonna lily) started to represent the Virgin Mary and her purity and humility.

Uses of Lily Flower

Throughout history, lilies are found useful for food, medicine, beautification, and for ornamental purposes. Oil from lilies are known to have softening and healing properties. Mixed with calendula, the lily fragrance oil is said to work wonders for highly sensitive skin and cuticles, including that of babies. Lily oil can be found as a key ingredient in hot oil treatments, facial moisturizers, and massage oils.


Some species of the lily flower have buds that are edible. Non-bitter edible, starchy lily bulbs are used in Chinese cuisine to add flavor to soup or can also be stir-fried with other vegetables. Certain species of dried lilies are also sold in China and Taiwan as an herb to reduce internal heat, for pulmonary complications, and for use as a tonic.


In Japan, the major lilium species are used as an herb or a vegetable. Lily root is an ingredient in a savory egg custard dish in Japan known as chawan-mushi. Lilium canadense buds and roots are food for the North American indigenous people. It is often steamed, boiled, or used as a flavoring for soup with fish or meat in it.

Meaning of Lilies by Color

  • White lilies symbolize purity, innocence, and fertility.
  • Orange lilies represent warmth, confidence, and wealth.
  • Yellow lilies show playfulness, enjoyment, and gratefulness.
  • Red lilies convey affection and love.
  • Pink lilies signify youth, vigor, and prosperity.

Other Meanings of Lilies

Because of the long pistil at the center of the lily, it is also associated with sexuality and eroticism. As such, it is also thought to symbolize fertility. The story of Hera made the Greeks associate the lily flower with motherhood. To this day, the lily flower is a great addition to a flower arrangement for Mother’s Day.


There is also an old wives’ tale to know if a pregnant woman is carrying a boy. It is said that the preggo should choose between a rose and a lily. If she chose the lily, she will give birth to a boy. If she chose the rose, she will have a baby girl.


Growing Lilies

Expert tip: Plant lily bulbs in the spring or fall. Select firm bulbs that have short sprouts. Bulbs with long sprouts may not flower.


  • SOIL

Organic soil from mulch and natural dirt is best for growing lilies. This type of flower prefers a slightly acidic and moist soil. However, lilies do not like standing water so opt for well-drained soil.


If you have clay-heavy or sandy soil, plant the bulbs at around 4 inches deep.  If you have good soil, opt to plant the bulbs at around 6 to 8 inches deep. Space the bulbs at least 12 inches apart.



You can improve these type of soils by encircling the lilies with organic matter such as chopped leaves and shredded bark. Applying mulch in summer and winter is also necessary. However, remove the mulch in late fall. If you intend to transfer a lily that has already bloomed in a pot, it is vital to plant the lily in the same depth of soil as in the container.


  • SUN

Most lilies prefer full sun, part sun, or a light shade.



Lilies grown in the backyard will need to be watered at least once a week. Give your plants enough water to reach the lily bulb. Be careful to remove seed pods as well as foliage and stems that turn yellow.



Fertilize your lilies at least twice a year: in the early fall and the following spring. Gardeners often choose organic fish fertilizer or organic compost. Avoid fertilizers that contain excessive nitrogen.



If you have a cat at home, be sure to keep them away from Lilium flowers. Lilies are highly toxic to cats. If our feline friends ingest the petals, leaves, pollen, or even water from a vase with lilies, they can suffer from vomiting, dehydration, and acute kidney failure which can be lethal. Some cats even have seizures.