Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lily love and a moral epigraph

 Few plants better exemplify the predicament we are in: I suspect that wood lilies were probably never that abundant (they are as tasty for deer as they are for cattle): but I suspect in presettlement times they probably occurred in far greater numbers than they do today. I have seen these here and there in Colorado--perhaps ten or fifteen spots along the Front Range, although they are said to occur beyond. I have also seen them on moist swales in prairie near Choteau, Montana: I nevertheless suspect their numbers in the Southern Rockies are finite: thousands, perhaps...not the millions that may or may not have once occurred.

One thing is certain: people do love and pick them as assiduously as the deer, and the riparian habitats where these are found are optimal spots for all sorts of human activities from towns and farms to ranches and ranchettes...we are undoubtedly the primary cause for the rarity of Lilium philadelphicum var. andinum.

These two pictures are of plants in my home garden, where I have fitfully managed to grow this largest flowered of native wildflowers. I shall counter the doom and gloom of my first paragraph by saying that Laporte Avenue Nursery which I have apostrophized several times before has produced thousands of these bulbs for High Country Gardens for a ridiculously inexpensive price, really. Here is yet another example of how we, humans, create a problem. Horticulture provides a solution: propagation! There is no reason to ever collect this lily when you can purchase it for a very reasonable price. More importantly, by growing and cherishing a plant you can learn to appreciate its existence in nature all the more...

Laporte seems to grow more and more wonderful lilies every year. This year at our spring plant sale at Denver Botanic Gardens Laporte had a flat or more of Lilium parryi (do check my hyperlink to remind yourself of my last blog) which I admired at their nursery a few years ago. LAST year I admired Lilium szovitsianum which was blooming at their nursery superbly last year: perhaps next year they shall have this at the sale so I can scarf up more than my share...

Incidentally, I took the first picture of Lilium philadelphicum on June 14 last year. This year they have been in full bloom a full three weeks earlier. That's the sort of year it's been. There are coarse lilies (mostly hybrids) and those with great tenacity. But most are delicate as their name implies, and it behooves us to cherish and encourage their numbers in gardens and the wild: that's our choice as humans. "The solution to pollution is dilution" may not be so very true in the closed ecosystem of our shrinking world. But I do aver that the salvation of our nation's showy rare plants lies in propagation and education.

1 comment:

  1. I have observed Lilium philadelphicum by the thousands in New Hampshire. They like sandy acidic soil where competition for light from woody species is minimal. Historically, woody species where kept from creating too much shade by frequent fires. Fire suppression has caused the whole sale loss of these lilies even from areas that have been set aside as preserves. The only areas I found them in New Hampshire were in power line corridors that periodically had woody species removed. In Pennsylvania I found one L. philadelphium in a preserve containing thousands of acres. This lily was only able to survive near the road where it could obtain some light. Unfortunately this narrow habitat also makes this beautiful flower vulnerable to those who would pick it. If this lily is to be preserved then an appropriate fire regime must be restored.

    James McGee

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