Serving Franklin County, WA

Why no Easter lily tours?

Easter is when potted Easter Lily plants start showing up in nurseries and supermarkets like poinsettias during the Christmas season. They adorn the altars and pulpits of most churches on Easter Sunday, but why don’t sightseers flock to fields to enjoy the spectacular sea of white blooms?

The answer is a small group of family lily farmers who are bulb producers. They need to clip the flowers to concentrate the plant’s nutrients on bulb development. Fields of white flowers on the ground are not as sight pleasing as miles of standing colorful tulips.

Because Easter lilies have delicate flowers shaped like trumpets, they are best grown in greenhouses and shipped carefully short distances to retailers.

Even though the market for Easter lilies has declined because fewer people are attending church service, it remains an important religious symbol to Christians. Many churches have statues and paintings depicting Saint Joseph carrying the child Jesus and a white lily. On Easter Sunday, churches are adorned with dozens of potted lilies which are wonderful sights.

It is an emblem of Joseph’s integrity and purity; and, someone who was a manual laborer, husband, and earthly father to Christ.

The world Easter Lily capital is Smith River, Oregon, which borders California. It is home to less than 900 residents, but roughly 95 percent of the global Easter Lily bulb production.

Easter lilies thrive in Smith River’s cool, foggy climate but to be for the Easter holiday, preparation of the lily bulbs begins in July when the flower first blooms. The deep green plants grow in the shadows of the giant Coastal Redwoods which also prefer the cool foggy weather.

In fact, five farms owned by four families in the area grow around 14 million Easter lilies each year. “There’s one farm in Oregon and three in California, so there are essentially four farms that are keeping this crop alive for Easter,” said lily farmer Matt Westbrook. Sacramento’s KXTV (ABC affiliate) John Bartell interviewed Westbrook last April.

“Before WWII, Easter lilies came from Japan. After WWII, they needed a new place to grow them, so they brought them to the West Coast, and they grew the best right here in Smith River,” said Westbrook.

Many fields of lily fields are located between Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean shores. The white-flowered fields are every bit as striking to the eye as the multi-colored tulip fields in western Washington and Oregon; however, they do not last as long. Once the blossoms take hold, farmers clip the flowers.

Meanwhile this is the time of year people start scrambling to book tours to your tulip fields in western Washington and Oregon. The tulips are in full bloom during April and May when up to a million visitors travel to the colorful fields.

In fact, as opposed to Easter lilies, tulip plants, flowers and field viewing is big business worldwide. For example, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is the largest in America and added more than $65 million to the local economy last year.

Tulips are historically associated with the Netherlands which remains a major bulb producer and tourist destination. That nation exports €250 million ($271 million) in bulbs each year, according to Statista.

Why benchmark Holland? Dutch growers came to America’s west coast to escape war- torn Europe and plant their treasure bulbs in our fertile coastal river valleys. They are like the Netherlands without iconic windmills.

Finally, the good news is Easter lily bulbs are hardy and can be transplanted into a cool spot in your garden. They are sturdy like daffodils bulbs only they bloom in late June or early July, not March and April, in our temperate climate.

— Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He can be contacted at [email protected].


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