VIDEO: Scott Fisher, a volunteer with the Idyllwild Nature Center, explains the significance of the lemon lily.
For the first time since the Idyllwild Lemon Lily Festival began in 2009, there will be lemon lilies for sale.
The four-inch pots sell for $5 each, and the 10-inch version for $15. There are about 75 in all, but don’t expect them to be blooming with their signature whirling yellow leaves.
“Most of them have already bloomed and have gone dormant,” admits Scott Fisher, volunteer and board member of the Friends of the San Jacinto Mountains. “We wish they would be blooming during the festival, but we can’t control nature.”
What people will be purchasing is the lemon lily bulb, which is considered “gold” in these parts. “At one time, you could smell the lemon lilies across the mountainside,” says Fisher. “They smell like gardenias. The lemon in the name describes the color of the bloom.”
The 6th Annual Idyllwild Lemon Lily Festival, July 11-12, is dedicated to restoring lemon lilies to the San Jacinto Mountains. The mission is to foster an appreciation for the threatened native lily, Lillium parryi, and educate the public of its plight and relevance to Idyllwild, and restore it to its historical range. The weekend will also feature arts and crafts, live music, native plant sales, food, speakers, and a pioneer town.
“In 1905, there were 300,000 lemon lilies in the San Jacinto Mountains. We’re down to about 2,000 now,” says Fisher, who works with other volunteers to help restore the native plant.
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. One collector in particular poached 5,000 lemon lilies in a single day.
What people didn’t realize is that lemon lilies need the mountain climate in order to grow. If they’re taken from a place with a lot of moisture and relocated to the arid desert, the bulb will dry out and they just won’t grow, explains Fisher. They really take a winter freeze to grow, he says.
Photo courtesy of Idyllwild Lemon Lily Festival
The fragrant lemon lily once numbered 300,000 in the San Jacinto Mountains and is now down to about 2,000.
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.
About half of the bulbs were planted along Highway 243 at Lily Creek and the other half was planted in about 200 yards along the creek at the Idyllwild Nature Center. Volunteers have worked hard to keep the lemon lilies thriving. Around the plantings, they’ve cleared the creek of vinca and mint. “They’re big water suckers and are not even native to the area,” Fisher says.
For those who purchase lemon lilies this year, there’s an instruction sheet about how to best plant them in the fall or early spring. They even recommend the type of soil to use which is a combination of reptile sand, dirt and potting soil. Soil near the roots must be moist, and the bulb should be damp, but well drained, the instructions say.
6th Annual Lemon Lily Festival, July 11-12, Idyllwild Nature Center, 25225 Highway 243, 951-659-3850; www.lemonlilyfestival.com