Articles

Hey all!  I have an article being published this month by the California Redbud Native Plant Society Newsletter concerning the BriarPatch Native Plant Demonstration Garden.  This piece was edited by Cindy R.  I hope you enjoy it!

Consider the Lilies

BRIAN: The point is the birds. They do all right. Don’t they? Okay, and you’re much more important
than they are, right? So, what are you worrying about? There you are. See?

EDDIE: I’m worrying about what you have got against birds.

BRIAN: I haven’t got anything against the birds. Consider the lilies.

ARTHUR: He’s having a go at the flowers now.

EDDIE: Oh, give the flowers a chance.

—From Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Many are familiar with the famous quote from the New Testament, “Consider the lilies and how
they grow. They neither toil nor spin, but not even Solomon in all his glory clothes himself like one
of these.” But when one really “considers the lily,” as it were, what one might find is a plethora of
traditional uses that, historically, made lilies an integral support of human life, in addition to being a
beloved and often showy flower.

One lily that has a myriad of traditional uses grows in our very own Native Plant Demonstration
Garden. We are lucky to have a number of Wavyleaf Soap Plants, Chlorogalum pomeridianum var.
pomeridianum, also known as Soap Root or Amole Lily: “This plant was a veritable supermarket for
Native Americans.”1 The plant was historically used for food, for fibers, and to stupefy fish (which
is currently illegal in the state of California, though a more humane practice than catching fish on a
hook). The plant was also used as a wash for poison oak or to prevent lice, as an antiseptic, for cramps
and rheumatism, as a laxative, and as a shampoo.2 Cecilia Garcia, a renown Chumash healer, also
mentions that the fibrous parts of the bulbs were used for making hairbrushes and other multipurpose
brushes. Additionally, the bulb was processed into a glue that was used for various functions;
apparently, the adhesive was so powerful that it was utilized for sealing boats and held fast even in
seawater.3 It is truly amazing that one plant can have so many different uses and inspiring to learn how
the lily supported human life.

During the last garden tour of the season in early July, we were privileged to witness the Soap Plant
as it opened flowers in the early evening. As a myriad of tiny, white flowers opened on the large,
chandelier-esque bloom stalks of the lily, we witnessed many crepuscular creatures swarming, eager to
pollinate the sweet smelling blossoms. We were very lucky this year that the deer left us many bloom
stalks to enjoy, as often Soap Lily buds are munched before us humans can enjoy the flowers.

We were also able to enjoy the beautiful Humbolt Lilies, Lilium humboldtii ssp. humboldtii, which
had been rescued (by permission) last season by Cindy Rubin and the demo gardeners from a local
construction site. This spring we were anxious to confirm that the bulbs had successfully acclimated to
their new home in the Demo Garden. Thankfully, these bulbs seem to be doing just fine. Our hard work
transplanting the lily bulbs was rewarded with three flowering lilies; their bright orange blooms were definitely the highlight of the July garden tour. This species of bulb needs to be at least seven years old to bloom, as does the Soap Lily.

As the growing season comes to a close and the energy of the plants returns into the earth, as a
gardener I can’t help but be curious as to what next spring may bring. I know that I look forward to
considering the lilies once more!

References:

1 Redbud Chapter, California Native Plant Society. 2007. Wildflowers of Nevada and Placer Counties, California.
Sacramento, California: CNPS Press, p. 223.
2 Steven Foster and Christopher Hobbs. 2002. Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs. New York: Peterson Field Guides, p.29.
3 Cecilia Garcia and James D. Adams, Jr. 2009. Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West. California: Abedus Press, p. 64.

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2 thoughts on “Articles

    • I once ate some soap lily bulb too…like you said, looked better than it tasted! I didn’t realize day lilies were edible too- I’m more familiar with the native lilies myself- though I suppose I’m not that tempted to try the day lily after your less than enthused description:)

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