Idyllwild Lemon Lily Festival Plants Seed of Restoration

Weekend focuses on having unique flower flourish again

Botanist Kate Kramer stands in an empty creek bed at the Nature Center in Idyllwild where numerous lemon lilies once thrived at the turn of the century.

Photo by Marcia Gawecki


During the turn of the century, thousands of lemon lilies grew on the hills and along the creek beds in Idyllwild.

Their bright yellow color and strong fragrance made them not only popular with the public, but also among collectors who sold them to seed catalogs.

“We know of one collector in particular, who poached 5,000 lemon lilies in a single day,” says botanist Kate Kramer, one of the featured speakers at the 5th annual Lemon Lily Festival, July 12-13, split between downtown Idyllwild and the Idyllwild Nature Center.

The weekend will feature speakers, hikes, children’s activities and tours of private homes. The Idyllwild downtown area near Jo’An’s Restaurant will offer arts and crafts booths and bluegrass music.

Kramer, who served 10 years as the district botanist for the U.S. Forest Service, hopes to impress upon the public that picking lemon lilies has a long-term effect.

“The critical thing about picking lemon lilies is that when you remove that beautiful flower, you are also poaching next year’s seeds,” says Kramer, who points to its attached seedpod. “Everyone should appreciate them in place, so we can get them to multiply again.”


VIDEO: Botanist Kate Kramer talks about restoring the lemon lily in Idyllwild.


Lemon lilies are found in the southwestern U.S. and grow locally in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains. Although cattle grazing and collecting have led to the lily’s decline, Kramer says that climate change is its biggest threat.

“There’s no snow pack from last winter, and the creeks have dried out,” says Kramer. “The bulbs have to be moist for them to survive.”

Lilies grow in the rich soil along the creeks, but can become “scoured out” from flash floods, or buried under debris and sediment.

That’s what likely happened to the 2,662 lemon lilies amateur botanists David Stilth and Tom Chester found growing in Willow and Tahquitz Creeks near Idyllwild. After last year’s Mountain Fire, those lemon lilies were likely buried under debris.

“We don’t know if they’ll come out yet,” says Kramer, who has been in contact with Stilth. “It depends upon the moisture of the soil, but we’re hopeful.”Lemon lilies are normally planted under about two feet of soil. The best soil mixture for them is palm and cactus mix that includes some pumice (volcanic rock).

Last year, the Lemon Lily Restoration Committee purchased 150 bulbs from Seven Oaks Native Nursery in Albany, Ore. They were grown from seeds taken from mature lemon lilies growing in Idyllwild in the 1970s and ‘80s.

“It’s important to have that local connection,” explains Kramer. “The lemon lilies have a better chance of survival because they’ve already been acclimated to the area.”

Unlike other flower festivals, the Idyllwild edition will not have lemon lilies for sale. However, people can “adopt” a lemon lily for $25 each, and it will be planted in their honor at the best locales.

Inset photo courtesy of Vera Roubideaux

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