A neat lily for this time of year

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Fri, 28 Jul 2006 05:16:11 PDT
John Grimshaw asked " I wonder if Jim McKenney's covetable library lacks
Woodcock & Stearn's 
'Lilies of the World' (1950), which I find to be still the most thorough 
source of information on lilies."

Sadly, it does. However, one reason it does is this: the pressure to acquire
Woodclck & Stearn more or less evaporated when I acquired a copy of the book
which was the prototype for Woodcock & Stearn: that book is the Woodcock &
Coutts  1935 Lilies Their Culture and Management. 

It's always intriguing to compare versions of a work, and the earlier effort
is well worth any time spent with it. If someone were to hand you the open
book, you could be excused for not being immediately sure which version you
were reading: there are many similarities, including many of the

And there are significant differences. The earlier work includes a very cozy
image of tiger lilies in a garden setting. The later work omits this image,
no doubt because of the by then growing concern about the role of tiger
lilies as a virus reservoir. 

Those of you who know Woodcock & Stearn might consider seeking out Woodcock
& Coutts: it won't be a waste of time! 

John Grimshaw also mentioned the lily cultivar Lady Alice. I too grow this;
the last flowers fell a bit over a week ago. This cultivar (it's grown from
seed and varies) is of interest because it, in effect, approximates one of
the great events in the history of lilies, the crossing which John mentioned
of Lilium henryi with the Chinese trumpets. That line of breeding resulted
in the lilies which came to be known as "Aurelians" and provided wonderful
garden lilies which can be said to have culminated in Leslie Woodriff's
grand clone, 'White Henryi'. 

Incidentally, this is an old cross: at the end of the nineteenth century,
Lilium x kewense emerged as a first try in this direction. It did not prove
to be permanent. The next big push came about a quarter century later in
France, where Lilium x aurelianense (to use the form of nomenclature popular
at the time) was a successful second try along similar lines. Lilium x
aurelianense probably resembled Lady Alice in most details. 

I envy John's acquisition of Lilium leichtlinii. I'm not sure I've ever had
this lily. I have had lilies acquired under the name Lilium leichtlinii, but
although they approximated the true plant, I suspect that they were not.
This Lilium leichtlinii was widely regarded by the older authors as among
the most beautiful of lilies. It also illustrates one of the peculiarities
of the code of nomenclature: the name Lilium leichtlinii was first applied
to a yellow-flowered lily which was almost certainly nothing more than a
mutant of the widespread orange-red Lilium known in the past as Lilium

The code requires that we call the species in question Lilium leichtlinii.
But the fact is that the yellow-flowered form almost certainly does not
correspond to any wild population. The yellow forms are probably nothing
more that sporadic mutations which occur in some populations of the
orange-red form. 

So far, so good. But horticulture has its own requirements with respect to
nomenclature, and gardeners by and large are interested not in population
genetics but in getting the flower they saw in the catalog. As a result, the
name Lilium leichtlinii var leichtlinii is often used for the
yellow-flowered plants and the name Lilium leichtlinii var maximowiczii is
used for the orange-red flowered plants. 

The irony is that these orange-red flowered plants make up almost the entire
population of this species. Many gardeners read the nomenclature to mean
that these orange-red flowered plants are a form of the yellow-flowered one.
But of course, it is the other way around. 

I've discussed this in the past on this list, and to me it's a good example
of the tail wagging the dog.  

Thanks, John, for the opportunity to engage in some lily talk. Lilies are,
of course, among my favorite plants. I've tried to keep my lily musings to a
minimum because lilies are served well on other lists. But it doesn't take
much provocation to have me ignore those scruples. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where the temperature last
night was still over 80 degrees F in the middle of the night. 

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