Did you know that 15 out of the total of 96 species of lilies in the world are indigenous to Japan?
Japanese have a great love for lilies, and the plants are even thought of as sacred since ancient times.
Yuri, the Japanese word originates from the old Japanese word Yuru that means “swing”, the plant so named after the sight of the flowers swinging in the wind. The name Yuri is a common girl’s name and sa (which means “sacred”) is sometimes added as a prefix so that Sayuri which means sacred lily.
In Nara prefecture there is a festival called Saikusa Matsuri (Saikusa is the old name of Sasayuri, lilium japonicum, matsuri means festival). Four maidens have a dance performance for the gods holding the flowers of Lilium japonicum. This festival has been maintained since the early 8th century.
The Japanese are known to have begun breeding lilies from the Edo period (1603-1867) as 37 cultivars were introduced in Kadan Chikin Sho (botanical book written by the gardener Ihei Itoh in 1695). The famous botanist Dr. Phillip von Sibold took many Japanese lily bulbs (Lilium longiforum, Lilium speciosum, Lilium maculatum, etc.) in cluding Japanese cultivars to Europe in 19th centurn. After the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japanese lily bulbs became popular exports to western countries. Since then, efforts have intensified to breed unusual lily hybrids.
Lily trivia: The famous white “Casa Blanca” lily was bred in New Zealand was bred by crossing Japanese species lilies (Lilium auratum, Lilium japonicum and Lilum maculatum.)
The indigenous species are as follows:
Lilium longiforum (English name = Easter lily or trumpet lily): the
Japanese name is TEPPO YURI meaning, “rifle lily” because the
flower shape looks like a rifle. The height is 60-80cm, and it grows
in the sunny seaside of Southern Japan (KAGOSHIMA, OKINAWA
Prefecture), blooming in March – July.
Lilium japonicum: Japanese name is SASA YURI meaning “
bamboo lily”, because the leaf shape looks like a bamboo leaf.
The height is 100 cm, its flower is pink, and it grows in the
mountainous area of West Japan, blooming in June – July.
Lilium rubellum: Japanese name is OTOME YURI meaning “maiden
lily”, indicative of the tiny shape of the plant. The height is 50-60
cm, its flower is pink, it blooms in May, and grows in the
mountainous area of the northeast Japan.
Lilium alexandrae: Japanese name is UKE YURI because its main
habitat is the UKE island of KAGOSHIMA Prefecture (South
Japan). The height is 50 cm – 60 cm, its flower is white, and it
blooms in July.
Lilium nobilissimum: Its habitat is the KUCHINOSHIMA island of
KAGOSHIMA Prefecture (South Japan), it bears an upright flower
which is white and it blooms in July.
Lilium auratum (English name = gold-banded lily): Japanese name
is YAMA YURI (= mountain lily) and it is the most common lily in
Japan (HONSHU island), with 20-26 cm fragrant white flowers with
yellow spots. It grows in grasslands or mountains and blooms in
June – July. The height is 100-200cm.
Lilium platyphyllum: The habitat is IZU islands, and is thought to
be a variant of Lilium auratum, but has no spots on its petals. The
flower is at most 30cm, with very strong fragrance.
Liluim maculatum: Japanese name is SUKASHI YURI (= “see
through” lily) because the petals are separated at its base and
we can see through them. The orange, upright flower is 14-15cm,
it blooms in May – July, the height is 50-60cm, and it is one of
the main parents of “Asiatic hybrids”. Its habitat is HONSHU
island and along side Lilium auratum, is very common.
Lilium dauricum: The plant is similar to Lilium maculatum, but its
habitat is Hokkaido island (Northeast area of Japan).
Lilium concolor (English name = star lily): Japanese name is HIME
YURI (= princess lily) because the flower is tiny and pretty. The
tiny upright orange flower is 4.5 – 7 cm, it blooms in June-July
and grows all over Japan. The height is 50-100cm.
Lilium speciosum(English name = showy lily): Japanese name is
KANOKO YURI (= baby deer lily) because there are red spots on
pinkish petals that look like deer’s skin. The petals are well rolled
and the flower looks like a ball, it blooms in July-August, and is
the latest flower of all the species. With the height is 50-150cm,
it is a very stout plant.
Lilium medeoloides (English name = wheel lily): Japanese name is
KURUMA YURI (= wheel lily) because the leaves are shown in a
radial pattern from the stem like a wheel. The small orange flower
is pendulous and the petals are well rolled. The habitat is the high
mountainous areas of Northern Japan.
Lilium lancifolium (English name = tiger lily): Japanese name is ONI
YURI. ONI means a Japanese demon that has a red face and a
big body. The pendulous orange flowers (10cm) with black spots
bloom in July-August, its height is 80 – 180cm and it grows all
over Japan. This plant is sterile but it multiplies by small bulbs at
the base of the leaves. There is a fertile type of this species in
China. It is said that this plant was brought to Japan as a
vegetable in old times because we boil the bulbs and eat them.
Lilium leichtlinii var. maximowiczii: Japanese name is KO ONI
YURI (small ONIYURI), the plant and flower is similar to Lilium
lancifolium, but the total form is smaller. This plant is fertile and
does not bear small bulbs. This plant is also utilized as a vegetable.
Lilium callosum (English name = Siebold’s lily): Japanese name is
SUGE YURI (= pampas grass lily) because the total form with thin
leaves looks like pampas grass. The small flower (3-4cm, yellow-
red) is pendulous and it grows in Southern Japan.