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The latest in lilies

New hybrids of lilies are showing up in a flower shop – and garden – near you.

By The Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center / June 5, 2008

LOVELY LILY: New LO hybrid lilies are a cross between the Easter lily, Lilium longiflorum, and Oriental lilies. The new hybrids feature beautiful, fragrant flowers like Oriental lilies but in a smaller size. This one is Lilium 'Vendella'.

Courtesy of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

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Lilies are classic when it comes to summer cut flowers. Stately Oriental varieties, with their large fragrant flowers and recurved petals, have long been fashion favorites. Shorter, smaller-flowered Asiatic hybrids are prized for their variety of bold colors.

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For years, North American flower lovers chose cut lily varieties mostly from these two dominant groups. But not any more. The world of lilies is going topsy-turvy. Busy hybridizers have developed whole new groups of lilies that are rocking the industry and expanding the choices available to lily lovers.

Over the past decade a new group of lilies, the LA hybrids, has captivated the attention of the cut flower world. They are a cross between the popular Asiatic hybrids and the Lilium longiflorum, the type we often refer to in the US as Easter lilies.

These new crossings combine the color range of the Asiatics with the elegant flower form and fragrance of the Easter lilies. While the Asiatic varieties continue to be the most plentiful lily varieties, experts say they are fast being overtaken by the new LA hybrids.

New kids on the block
Now, there’s another new kid on the block, the OT hybrid. These are a cross between the popular Oriental hybrids, which are found mainly in white and pastel pink tones, and the tall and brightly colored Trumpet varieties.

This pairing has produced something new and wonderful: OT lilies combine the exquisite shape and fragrance of Oriental lilies and the expanded color range of the Trumpets.

The OT group is particularly rich in orange and rust colors. Dutch floral experts predict that the OT hybrids will soon challenge Orientals in popularity. The gardening world also knows OTs as Orienpets.

“Lilies have never been more intriguing,” said Frans Roozen, the technical director of the International Flower Bulb Center in Hillegom, Netherlands. “Before the LA hybrids arrived, the latest things happening were what they called the Mid-Century Hybrids, created by Jan de Graaf in Oregon in the 1950s. These are what we now call the Asiatic varieties.

"Now, we have the LA hybrids, arriving in the 1990s, and the OT hybrids arriving today. All are coming onto the market very quickly. It’s an exciting time in lily hybridizing!”

Technology brings new lily varieties to market quickly
In the world of bulb flower hybridizing, patience is a virtue. For most of history, it has taken as long as 10 to 20 years to bring a new flower variety to market. This is still true of tulips and most other popular spring-flowering bulbs.

For lilies, however, science has found a way to step in.

The actual crossing or hybridizing in lilies is still done by traditional methods. The pollen of different varieties are mixed together on a mother plant to produce seeds of a new variety.