A snowfall in March and Lilium martagon

Hard to believe it but yesterday we got another 20 cm of fresh snow – mid March, eh?

Perfect for updating my post about the martagon lilies – Lilium martagon. It seems that Basho wrote this haiku  with Lilium martagon var. album in mind:

 If there were fragrance/ these heavy snow-flakes settling…./Lilies on the rocks. – Basho

Lilium martagon

Lilium martagon var. album – a snowfall in June at Lost Horizons Nursery

Lilium martagon belongs to a group of lilies called ‘turk’s cap lilies’, from the resemblance of their flowers with a turban. Original from S.C. Europe to NE Asia, the martagon lily is the most widespread of all lilies and the commonest in Europe. It occurs widely in the Alps where it is generally a meadow plant that grows up to an elevation of 2100 m on a wide range of soils, including calcareous ones (Alpine Garden Society). It is quite a common lily (pink form) to encounter also in the Central Carpathian Mountains, including in the Bucegi Mountains.

Lilium martagon has a long history as a garden plant. There are reports that it has been known in Sweden since the Middle Ages. It is said that in Uppsala, in the garden of Carl Linnaeus, the ‘Father of modern taxonomy’, martagon lilies bloom every year under ancient trees. It was also listed in the first garden catalogue ever published (1596), that of John Gerard (author of the famous and controversial Herbal). The white flowered variety, Lilium martagon var. album has been treasured in gardens since the 16th century, and received an AGM in 1993.

 It can be variable in height: 0.6 – 1.5 m or more depending on the variety, location and age (bulb size). The flowers have six tepals, recurved with purple or brown spots with 6 long stamens; disposed on rigid stems; fragrant only in the evening and night as pollination is carried out by moths which feed on the nectar. Leaves: arranged in whorls in the middle lower- half of the stem and alternate in the upper half. Fruit – a capsule with lots of seeds and after flowering, the flower-stalk is reversed and the capsules end up in an erect position.

Propagation: easy by seeds or from bulb scales, which are yellow, hence the common French name ‘racine d’or’. Bulbs are also edible; in fact even chipmunks enjoy them very much, reason why I am not able to have one in my garden.  It is slow to establish, especially if grown from seeds but then it is long lived, forming large clumps and flowering for a long time, usually starting in June. Most definitely it is well worth the wait!  Best in a part-sun location but can grow in full sun too, on a slightly alkaline, well-drained substrate.

Myths and symbolism: According to medieval beliefs that linked plants and planets for healing purposes, the Martagon lily was connected with the planet Mars, hence the name ‘martagon’ (Health and healing from the medieval garden: Peter Dendle and Alain Touwaide).

On the symbolic side, ‘Fleur de Lys’, which is a stylized lily flower, is a very old emblem that has been used for over 1500 years to represent France. The best known is the representation on the coats of arms of Catherine de Medici. While no one says clearly that it is a L. martagon, the illustration shows a turk’s cap lily with recurved tepals. Legend has it that in those times the soldiers were wearing a Martagon lily bulb around their neck (as a necklace), for protection (by the way, another common name in French is ‘Lis de Catherine’).

All this history and symbolism makes it even more desirable! I hope to make it a species present on my Wild crafted seeds Catalogue, along with other species from Carpathian Mountains.

If not keen on growing it from seeds, it is available from Lost Horizons Nursery and Fraser’s Thimble Farms in Canada; in Europe countless nurseries are selling not only L. martagon but also a whole range of hybrids derived from L. martagon with various flowers colour from white and pink to orange and purple.

Likely a hybrid of L. martagon