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Lilium longiflorum, often called the Easter lily, is a plant endemic to the Ryukyu Islands (Japan). Lillium formosana, a closely related species from Taiwan, has been treated as a variety of Easter lily in the past. It is a stem rooting lily, growing up to 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) high. It bears a number of trumpet shaped, white, fragrant, and outward facing flowers.
Plants tend to grow from about 50 centimetres (20 in) to 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) have long oval leaves, and the vein enters the horizontal direction. In April–June, the plant's flowering season, it produces pure white flowers on top of the stem. the stem has a cylindrical shape, with a diameter of about 5 centimetres (2.0 in). The plant is also a hermaphrodite.
A variety of it, L. longiflorum var. eximium, native to the Ryukyu Islands, is taller and more vigorous. It is extensively cultivated for cut flowers. It has irregular blooming periods in nature, and this is exploited in cultivation, allowing it to be forced for flowering at particular periods, such as Easter. However, it can be induced to flower over a much wider period. This variety is sometimes called the Bermuda lily because it has been much cultivated in Bermuda.
From the 1890s to the early 1920s, there was a thriving export trade of bulbs from Bermuda to New York. A disease affected the Bermuda lilies: this was identified by Lawrence Ogilvie. In 1903, USDA Agricultural Research Services (ARS) started to distribute disease free plant materials and seeds. The agency also started a breeding program, and released one of the first dwarf cultivars for potted-plant production in 1929. Prior to USDA's effort, lily bulbs in general were largely imported from Japan before the 1940s. The supply of bulbs was suddenly cut off after the attack on Pearl Harbor and Easter lilies became extremely valuable in the United States.
Lilium longiflorum is known as the Easter lily because in Christianity, it is a symbol of the resurrection of Christ, which is celebrated during Eastertide. The "lily has always been highly regarded in the Church", as Jesus Himself referenced the flower, saying "Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Luke 12:27). Moreover, according to pious legend, "after Jesus' death and resurrection, some of these beautiful flowers were found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray the night before His crucifixion. Legend has it that these flowers sprung up where drops of Jesus' sweat fell as he prayed". In many Christian denominations, the chancel of the church is adorned with the Easter lily during the Paschal season. A poem of the early 1900s titled Easter Lilies by S.R. Allen, delineates this custom:
Somewhere while the Easter lilies
Swing their perfumed censers white,
Softened rays of sunlight falling
In lines aslant, and warm, and bright,
Shall gild the altar, nave and chancel;
Rest with tender roseate ray
On the font, enwreathed with lilies
For baptismal rites today.
Another pilgrim on the journey
From the cradle to the tomb,
Shall receive a name and blessing
While the Easter lilies bloom.
— Mrs. S.R. Allen
The Easter lily is a rich source of steroidal glycosides. It also contains bitter principles such as 3,6′-diferuloylsucrose.