Wild Georgia: Will the real Easter lily please stand up?

Credit: Charles Seabrook

Credit: Charles Seabrook

The pure white, trumpet-shaped flowers of the Easter lily are long-standing symbols of the oldest and most important Christian holiday. The flowers will be in abundant display on Easter Sunday, April 9, in churches, homes and other places where people gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Christians around the world, of course, have for centuries associated various species of white lilies with Easter. The Bible mentions lilies as symbols of rebirth and purity as observed at Easter.

In the United States, the lily species, Lilium longiflorum, is considered to be the exclusive Easter lily. It is, however, a native of Japan, where it was cultivated for its showy flowers. Its bulbs were introduced to the United States from Japan in 1919, and the flower quickly became popular. Commercial growers dubbed it the Easter lily; today, it is the most recognized floral symbol of the holiday.

There is, however, a beautiful white, trumpet-shaped flower native to Georgia that closely resembles the commercial Easter lily — and, in my mind, is just as splendid. It’s the atamasco lily, also known as the rain lily because it blooms profusely after a soaking rain in March and April. Because it blooms around Easter time, many folks regard it as the Easter lily.

Atamasco lilies never fail to take my breath away when I come across them in the wild — mostly in moist woodlands and meadows and along streams in Georgia’s Piedmont and coastal plain regions. Their long, slender stems stretch 8 inches high or more, each stem capped by a fragrant, white flower whose “trumpet” seems to blare out that spring is here.

But unlike the commercial lilies that will be decorating churches and homes on Easter Sunday, the atamasco lily, despite its name, is not a real lily species — it actually belongs to the amaryllis family. True lilies belong to the family Liliaceae.

Nevertheless, for many local folks, the atamasco lily is the true lily of Easter.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be full on Wednesday night — the “Flower Moon,” as the Cherokee people called April’s full moon. Mercury (low) and Venus are in the west just after sunset. Mars is high in the southwest at dark. Saturn is low in the east just before sunrise.

Charles Seabrook can be reached at charles.seabrook@yahoo.com.