Wild Lily: L. candidum Linnaeus 1753, Madonna Lily

Known throughout mid-Europe for a long time, the white Madonna Lily is a symbol of innocence, purity and chastity, has been the attribute of many saints, the Virgin Mary and Joseph, and is depicted on many altar-pieces. It is thought that the Crusaders brought it to mid-Europe from Asia Minor and Palestine during the twelfth century, but it is perhaps more probable that the Romans had already previously brought

it over the Alps. Its place of origin is uncertain, but it was certainly already being cultivated 1,000-2,000 years earlier in the Mediterranean area by the Egyptians, Cretans, Greeks and Romans as a medicinal plant. It has also been associated with heart in Afghanistan, the Lebanon, Israel (Haifa), Beirut and the country surrounding Izmir. The First World War saw the var. salonikac discovered by an English soldier during 1916/17 on the Salonika front; it has smaller perianth-segments and smaller and more waved leaves than the type. It is also found growing among thickets and on cliff faces in the valley of the Vardar of Greece near Dojran as well as near the Albanian frontier at Krystal-lopegae. (2, 29)

Strong basal roots several years old grow from the broadly ovoid, white or yellowish bulb. The glabrous, oblanceolate basal leaves appear during September and retain their greenness throughout the winter. The stems arise during the spring to a height of 2 feet 6 inches-4 feet -also higher on occasions – and carry during June/July, 5-20 pure-white, wide-open, funnel-shaped, scented blooms in panicled inflorescence. Yellow pollen. Unfortunately it does not set seed in the cold Northern European climate, but occasionally succeeds in doing so under the warmer conditions of France and Italy; the wild forms of Turkey, Greece and Israel are all seed-setters. The seeds are dormant for the first two years and germinate irregularly. This lily has retained the life cycle of its native south, where it is exposed to summer droughts and autumn rains and must therefore always be transplanted immediately the flowers and stem have withered and in sufficient time to allow it to develop its basal leaves during the same autumn in preparation for the following year’s growth.

If it is to do well it needs calcareous soils and as little disturbance as possible. It is well known that this lily flourishes for decades in old cottage gardens, but always provided it is grown on good calcareous loams and silt soils, is not disturbed, is not planted deeper than 1% inches and in full sun with adequate ground cover, (RHS-LYB 1954)

L. candidum var. ceriiuum has a black stem and small, pointed segments; is reputed to set seeds.

L. candidum var, sahnikae occurs in the wild near Salonika in Greece, has small flowers with pointed segments, sets seed.

Cascade strain. A selection of crosses with L. candidum of various origin from which Jan de Graaff has selected a number of tall and dwarf-growing forms for commercial release.

The best-known hybrid is L. x testaceuni = L. candidum x L. chalccdotiicuw. Crosses with L. parryi and L. ledeboitrii are reported to be possible.

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