Second only to roses in their mystique, lilies have been cultivated for centuries in almost every part of the globe. From China and Japan across the Asian continent to the Middle East and southern Europe, all the way to North America, the genus Lilium contains over 100 separate natural species.
Today, however, man-made hybrids are bringing even more variety to this large genus. First bred as garden flowers, lilies in brand-new categories have been picked up by the cut-flower industry and are becoming more commonly available as growers increase production. Further, lilies are becoming available from more different sources, at different levels of price and quality.
The quality of lilies begins with the bulb
Like other bulb flowers, lilies have long been considered a specialty of Dutch and California growers. More recently, growers in Costa Rica and Colombia have begun to produce lilies of good quality-not quite as good as the premium lilies from Holland and California, but better than in the past and relatively inexpensive. The result is a tiered market in which, more and more, some lilies are bought and sold as commodities-identified by color and selected by price-while others are identified by variety name and purchased with a greater concern for the relationship of price to quality. For retail florists, some "commodity" lilies might be a good buy, depending on the use to which they will be put.
Lilies are often graded according to the bud or flower count on each stem, starting with 1-2 buds and going up to 5-6. This system, however, provides only a rough index of quality. The quality of lilies begins with the bulb: larger, better-quality, more expensive bulbs produce larger, better-quality, more expensive flowers.
The Dutch grower and exporter Hilverda de Boer recently created a quality assurance program called Supreme Selections, a branding effort that comprises lilies from a handful of premium Dutch growers. Part of the idea behind a program like this is to encourage florists and other buyers to get acquainted with more different varieties and be more willing to try something a little different. Florists may buy a pink Oriental, such as Stargazer or Starfighter or Barbaresco which some customers are familiar with, but now they have the option of saying, "Look at this lily we just got in, it's a little darker pink than Stargazer", or "Check out this beautiful white Oriental lily-it's called Sapporo and it's like Casa Blanca except it faces more upward, which gives it a different look". That's what turns customers into connoisseurs and gives them an extra reason to come to a florist shop.
The fascinating new varieties on the market aren't just white and pink; they include such dramatic beauties as the dark purple Sumatra or the yellow and white hybrid Conca D'Or. Longiflorum or "Easter" lilies are available all year long, in versatile color selections other than white. Lilies with a branching or outward-facing growth habit, in particular, lend themselves to dramatic design and display of a kind that leverages a professional florist's creative skill.
Lily Care Tips