Madonna lily

Lilium candidum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Liliaceae
Genus: Lilium
Species: L. candidum
Binomial name
Lilium candidum

Lilium candidum (popularly known as the Madonna Lily) is a plant in the genus Lilium, one of the true lilies. It is native to the Balkans and West Asia. It forms bulbs at ground level, and unlike other lilies, has a basal rosette of leaves through the winter, which die back in summer. A leafy flower stem, typically up to 1.2 metres (3 ft 11 in) high, sometimes up to 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) high, emerges in late spring and bears fragrant flowers in summer. Flowers are white, flushed yellow at the base.

It has long been cultivated, but is susceptible to virus diseases of lilies, and to Botrytis fungus. One possible way to avoid problems with viruses is to grow plants raised from seed.


Madonna Lilies in art and culture

The Madonna lily is often described as being the basis of the fleur de lis, though the shape of this stylised flower more strongly resembles that of a flag iris.

Madonna lilies are depicted on wall paintings at the Minoan palace of Knossos.

The Madonna Lily symbolizes purity for Roman Catholics. Medieval depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary often show her holding these flowers.

There are translations of the Bible that identify the Hebrew word Shoshannah as 'lily' in Song of Songs ("As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters." Song of Songs 2:2 (KJV)), not as a rose as is customary to translate. For example, Abraham ibn Ezra describes it as a white flower, which has a good fragrance, and has a six-petal flower and six stamens. But its identity is uncertain, because it does not fit with the description as "the lily of the valleys", because mostly it grows in the mountains.

In King Solomon's Temple there were designs of Madonna lilies on the columns and the brazen Sea (Laver).

The White Lily was also an indicator of slaves in the early 1850s before the Civil War. One slaver in particular would brand a lily on his slaves so that even if one were to escape they would always be marked and therefore unable to truly escape the chains they were in.

In 1883 the White Lily was used as an indication of racist groups in the deep south, mainly Georgia. This emblem was put over houses and establishments for townsfolk to know what places they could go to and plot the next move against the newly freed black slaves. The Stem of the White Lily (what the group called themselves) organized over 200 lynchings before being put down in a revolt against the Georgia government which was corrupt and full of White Lily sympathizers. This marked an interesting time in the United States after the Civil War and was yet another group taking after the steps of the Ku Klux Klan which started a years earlier and started the process in which the White Lily would follow.

Today, while beautiful, the White Lily is still considered a racist emblem in southern states like Georgia, Alabama, and North and South Carolina.


  • The European Garden Flora (1986)
  • Garden Bulbs for the South (1994)

External links

  • on Plants Database
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