Consider the Lily.

Happy Easter everyone, and today's heading is particularly apropos on this anniversary of Brian's (and that other guy's) crucifixion. Though Easter isn't celebrated over here to any great extent, I do have an Easter tale for you.

Did you know that these days 95% of the Easter Lily bulbs produced for American use are from 10 farms along the Californian-Oregon border? The Easter Lily (Latin name is Lilium longiforum) is native to the Southern Ryukyu Islands (南西諸島=Nansei shoto) of Japan. In the 1880's, it was widely cultivated in Bermuda and bulbs were shipped to this country. Around the turn of the century, the Japanese took over the annual growing exportation of Easter Lilies to the United States, and continued to dominate the US export market until the start of World War II.

(Lilium japonicum)

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Japanese source of bulbs was abruptly cut off. As a result, the value of lily bulbs sky-rocketed and many who were growing the lilies as a hobby decided to go into business. The Easter Lily bulbs at that time were called "White Gold," and growers everywhere attempted to cash in on the crop. Even after the Japanese started to ship bulbs in again after the war, they have never been able to come close to the quality of those healthy, U.S.-grown bulbs, and thus never regained any significant market share.

Easter has its share of traditions: egg decorations and hunts; gift baskets and chocolate bunnies, sunrise church services, parades, and, of course, the Easter Lily. For many, the beautiful trumpet-shaped white flowers symbolize purity, virtue, innocence, hope and life - the spiritual essence of Easter. Tradition has it that the beautiful white lilies sprung up where drops of Christ's sweat fell to the ground in his final hours of sorrow and deep distress.

(Virgin Mary Lily)
And lilies have long been associated with everyone from Greek fables that tell us that the lily sprang from the milk of Hera, to the pure white lily that's long been closely associated with the Virgin Mary.

Japan is a country of lilies. Of the total 96 species all over the world, 15 species are indigenous to Japan. The Japanese have been fond of lilies and sometimes regarded them as sacred plants. ゆり (yuri), the Japanese word for depicting lily, comes from the old Japanese word 揺る (yuru) that means "swing". It seems that ancient people named the plant after the sight of its flowers swinging in the wind. The Japanese often add さ (sa=sacred) to become 小百合 (Sayuri) as a girl's name.

So the next time you look at an Easter Lily, remember its roots!

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