Monday, July 29, 2013

Lilium iridollae

Peter Zale
Mr. Peter Zale
Our fourth presenter at the 2013 NALS Convention was Peter Zale, who was born and raised in Olmsted Falls, Ohio and developed a love of plants as a teenager.  He graduated from Ohio State University in 2001 with a degree in horticulture science and worked as a Nursery and Sales Manager for the next five years.  During 2007 Peter returned to Ohio State to study plant breeding, genetics, and germplasm conservation.  He received his Master’s degree in 2009 and is currently researching the genus Phlox.   Peter’s plant interests are many and he currently holds over 2,000 taxa in his plant collection.  Many of these plants are discussed on Peter’s website and blog at

Peter began his presentation by telling us about Mary Gibson Henry and her Pot-of-Gold, and then continued with a modern horticultural and botanical perspective on Lilium iridollae.

Mary Gibson Henry (1884-1967) was an American botanist and plant collector from Philadelphia, who also served as president of the American Horticultural Society.  Mrs. Henry had a lifelong interest in botany, and after her children had grown up, she set out collecting in her chauffeured car to remote areas of the American coastal plain, piedmont, and Appalachian Mountains.  Then later ventures to the Ozarks and the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to British Columbia.

In 1940, Mary Henry discovered the Lilium iridollae species in its habitat. She named the lily in reference to a "pot of gold at the end of the rainbow". This species is considered one of five known Lilium species native to specific sites in the United States' southeast region.

Lilium iridollae is very demanding of specific conditions, which are probably the reason why this lily has been elusive to many enthusiasts. In general, the southeastern region of the United States is not considered "a lily growing area" since it has warm winter temperatures and high humidity which are not suitable conditions for most garden lilies.

Lilium iridollae is commonly known as Pot-of-Gold Lily and Panhandle Lily.  You can find this lily in Florida, Alabama, the Carolina's and Virginia.  It grows along streams and wet pine woodlands in the southwestern United States and has become endangered in Florida and threatened in North Carolina. 

This lily is reliant on naturally occurring fires caused by lightning strikes.  The fires reduce competition from other plants, release nutrients and organic substance from burned moss and leaves into the nutrient-poor soil.  This lily is also sensitive to changes in drainage patterns and water quality.  So they would be affected by urban development in nearby areas.

Lilium iridollae stem
Lilium iridollae stem
The flower stalk could grow to be 6 feet tall, but is usually a foot or two shorter. The individual flower stalks only create one solitary flower that hangs downward from the stem. Each flower is about 3-4 inches wide. The colors of the flowers range from a pale yellow to a rich orange. The petals on the flower are recurved, while the stamens and the stigma hang downward in the open space. In addition, the petals also have heavy brownish-black spots and the flowers are non-fragrant.

iridollae_basal rosette
iridollae base of plant
Lilium iridollae are deciduous and return to their bulb stage in late autumn.  Near early spring, brand new leaves form and they develop into a basal rosette. In late spring, the basic rosette begins to elongate. Then by mid- to late-July they flower.

There are often situations where Native lilies neglect to flower if the conditions are not right. In that case, they might spend years appearing each spring as a basal rosette of leaves. In addition, young plants, in optimal conditions, take more than two years to develop into a flower from a seed because they mature at a slow pace.

Mr. Zale gave us a marvelous rendition of his plant collecting expedition to Florida where he re-discovered Lilium iridollae.  The plant habitat and photos of the lily growing in its natural setting were fascinating.  We really enjoyed looking and touching some of the Lilium iridollae that Mr. Zale collected and is currently propagating.

-- Lynn Slackman

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