Lilium henryi; was RE: Lilium rosthornii

Jim McKenney
Thu, 02 Aug 2007 09:20:45 PDT
Currently I grow neither Lilium rosthornii nor the typical Lilium henryi.
Both have bloomed here often in the past; in fact, Lilium henryi was among
the first lilies I grew as a teenager over forty years ago. However, one of
the several yellow-flowered forms of Lilium henryi is blooming now. The one
I have has flowers which are a bit bigger than typical Lilium henryi; the
color is a particularly appealing bright light yellow. Unfortunately, the
stem is weak and so without staking the garden display is thus compromised.
Nevertheless it's an exquisite lily, and it's easily grown. The long
flexuous stem and the attenuated pedicels of the individual flowers - the
size of an orange, they hang like paper lanterns well out from the main stem
- make this one of the most graceful lilies in the garden. 

In the past, these yellow-flowered Lilium henryi  were often called var.
citrinum; as far as I'm concerned, that's a name best avoided. 

When Lilium henryi was discovered in China by Western botanists, it was a
small plant, much like Lilium resthornii as we now know it. When brought
into cultivation, Lilium henryi soon morphed into a real giant: some early
growers reported ten foot stems. Talk about regression towards the mean:
it's like those immigrant families whose grandchildren are so much taller
and bigger. 

Lilium henryi is probably the most important lily to be introduced from
China ever. Those of you who have seen it but don't know much about the
history of lilies will probably balk at that statement. It's true that
Lilium henryi is not one of the more prepossessing of lilies. The forms with
floppy stems in particular give it a bad name. But the importance of Lilium
henryi has little to do with what it looks like. Its vigor under garden
conditions almost everywhere, its general disease resistance and its virus
tolerance have made it an important parent of several groups of hybrid
lilies. The importance of Lilium henryi is that it provided the tough
constitution which made spectacular garden lilies a reality for growers just
about wherever lilies are grown. 

A century ago it was used to produce Lilium x kewense, the first of what
would eventually be thought of as Aurelian hybrid lilies. These, in their
primary form, are crosses between L. henryi and various trumpet lilies. 

It was Leslie Woodriff's successful crossing of Lilium henryi and Lilium
speciosum about a half century ago which laid the ground work for the modern
super lilies.

These modern super lilies arose when breeding lines involving on the one had
crosses between Lilium henryi and trumpet lilies were crossed with the
henryi x speciosum crosses. This latter cross is very difficult, and the
early generation hybrids from these crosses were accomplished by embryo
rescue and tissue culture. The resulting garden lilies, the oriental-trumpet
crosses, are sometimes fertile and easily crossed among themselves. If you
like lilies with flowers the size of small plates carried twenty to thirty
on a seven to eight foot stem, these are your lilies. Many of these are now
readily available and surprisingly inexpensive. 

Woodriff's speciosum x henryi  hybrid was named 'Black Beauty'. It too is
readily available and well worth having. Most of the trumpet-oriental
hybrids are now finished for the year here in my garden. Lilium 'Black
Beauty' is just hitting its stride. Compared to the monsters mentioned
above, it has smaller flowers which are very graceful. There is a mild
fragrance, too. The flowers are small, but the plant is not: it can go to
seven feet or more and have fifty flowers on a stem. It's got the potential
to keep the butterflies happy for two or more weeks. 

If it hadn't been for the introduction of Lilium henryi in the late
nineteenth century, we wouldn't have any of this now. Two of the great and
hugely influential Chinese lilies, Lilium henryi and Lilium regale, have had
had their centenary years: Lilium henryi first bloomed in the West in 1889
and Lilium regale in 1905 (you won't find the name Lilium regale mentioned
back then: it was not named until 1912 or 1913; both dates are given).
Oddly, the lily world ignored both anniversaries. Nor did any reporters show
up for the little celebrations held here in my garden. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where I'm on the lookout for

My Virtual Maryland Garden

Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
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