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The Rose lily: An Easter tradition gets a blush of color

Rose lilyFor flower lovers who thought the traditional white Easter lily had become as ubiquitous as the poinsettia at Christmastime and run its course as a holiday hostess gift, the lily world is introducing a hot new hybrid this year: the Rose lily.

"Instead of six petals like you'd typically see, this one has 20 petals or more," said Lane DeVries, chief executive of the Sun Valley Group, which is based in Arcata, Calif., and grows lilies by the hundreds of thousands on its farm in Oxnard. "It looks as full as a peony or rose."

Bristol Farms stores in the Los Angeles area has bunches of the bodacious flower this week, he said.

You no doubt also will see the traditional Easter lily plant (Lilium longiflorum), which produces up to six fragrant, trumpet-shaped, creamy white blooms arranged around a tall leafy stem.

"Easter lilies aren't as vogue as they used to be," said Bob Mellano, vice president of sales for Mellano & Co., a major Southern California flower grower. "Our company used to sell over 1,000 cases of them during Easter week, and now we sell 20% of that."

Mellano blames the decline during the last 25 years on the commoditization of Easter lilies. "The whole marketplace has shifted to big-box stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Costco selling potted Easter lilies as loss-leaders, and the traditional high-end florist can't compete with that."

Other options also have captured consumers' imaginations.

"Cut lilies -- royal hybrids, Oriental and Asiatic -- are a very significant crop for Easter," DeVries said. Typically, Oriental lilies come in white, pinks and red. Asiatics have slightly smaller blooms in a wider color range, including yellow and orange. Royals are a hybrid of the two, with larger blooms and long-lasting vase life.

Some of DeVries' lily tips:

Locally grown: If you're a locavore intent on buying flowers grown in-state instead of flown in from overseas, as many cut flowers are, look for the "CA-Grown" label on the bouquet's plastic sleeve.

Abundant buds: Look for stems with three to five buds, usually sold in "grower's bunches" of up to five stems. "We pick lilies when the buds have full color just prior to popping open. By the time they're at stores, the first flower has begun to crack."

Snip stamens: Remove the rust-colored stamens from the flower's center before they mature and drop pollen, which can stain a tablecloth or clothing. Just take a tissue and pluck it out.

Re-trim stems: Trim the stems at a 45-degree angle every two days and change the vase water to ensure longer flower life. A new bud should open every day or so.

And if you like neither the traditional Easter lily nor the Rose lily hybrid, consider giving some other bouquet from California's flower fields, DeVries said. His firm's biggest Easter crop by far: tulips.

-- Debra Prinzing

Prinzing documents the movement toward local flowers and eco-friendly floral design in her new book, "The 50 Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers," photographed by David E. Perry and published by St. Lynn's Press. 

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