Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
The flower that most often comes to mind when we think of Easter is, of course, the Easter lily. But there are other flowers appropriate for this time of year as well, all with rather interesting origins.
In the Alps, the narcissus has been associated with Easter for centuries. In fact, even before Christianity, the narcissus represented springtime in Greek mythology. It is still widely used as the main Easter flower in many countries.
In England and Russia, pussy willows are used for Easter flowers. In the Middle East, it is wild tulips, while in Mexico, tropical flowers fill the churches during this spring holiday season. The early Germans decorated with red flowers and red fruited plants such as English holly, believing the red color represented the blood of Christ. The field anemone (Anemone coronaria) also was associated with the passion of Christ.
The Easter cactus (Hatiora gaertneri, formerly Rhipsalidopsis), is so named as this relative of the Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti, all looking almost identical, blooms in spring. The funnel-shaped, flaring flowers are either rose purple or scarlet orange, coming out of flat, segmented leaves. These, as their kin, are often found in hanging baskets where they’re well adapted, growing naturally on trees in Brazil. The flowers open during the day, closing at night. Being a cactus, keep this one on the dry side.
Do you know the Bermuda lily? You probably do, as this is the true name of the Easter lily, deriving from its origin. It is a pure white flower, believed to symbolize purity. Coming from one bulb, the flower is said to represent the tomb of Jesus with the blossoms symbolizing his life after death. It is the most common flowering potted plant of spring.
When buying a lily, select a plant with many unopened buds and leaves all the way down the stem. Poor growing conditions or root disease will cause the loss of leaves from the bottom up, so be sure to pull back the wrapper to check.
Choose a well-proportioned plant, one that’s about two to three times as high as the pot. Check the buds, flowers, and leaves–especially the undersides–for signs of insect pests and disease.
To keep your lily healthy at home, remove the decorative foil or paper covering the pot, or make a hole in the bottom, to allow better drainage. Put your plant where it will get plenty of bright, indirect light and cool temperatures. About 40 to 50 degrees F at night, or as cool as possible, and below 68 degrees F during the day is ideal.
You also will need to keep the soil constantly moist. To prolong the life of the blossoms, remove the yellow, pollen-bearing pods or anthers found in the center of each flower as it opens.
Don’t expect your lily to flower again as it’s already been “forced” once by the grower to bloom in time for Easter. However, you might get your lily to bloom again next fall by planting it outdoors once the soil has warmed up.
If you plan to replant your lily outdoors, remove the flowers as they fade. Put the plant on a sunny windowsill for four to six weeks until the foliage matures. Continue to water. When the leaves turn brown, cut the stem off at the soil line. Then in late May, plant the bulb four to six inches deep in a sunny, well-drained location. Fertilize twice during the summer. With luck, your lily will bloom this fall. Just don’t count on it surviving a northern winter.
Other appropriate flowers for Easter, and spring in general, are other bulbs such as tulips and hyacinths, and azaleas. The bulbs can be purchased as cut flowers, or in pots. If potted, the hyacinths can be planted outside in warmer weather, and may survive to future years. Most tulips, however, will not come back next spring. If giving the hyacinth as a gift, make sure the recipient isn’t allergic to the strong odor of the flowers.
Azaleas come in reds, white, and pinks. They are tender, so wont survive winter outdoors in northern climates. Still, they are a good value. Keep them moist (not wet), and cool with plenty of light, and you should get several weeks of blooms indoors.
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