Blooming big business

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You can only buy Easter lilies at a few places in Shelby County, but it’s a good bet they came from the California-Oregon border.

By Todd Martin

Easter lilies are an integral part of the annual celebration for which it received its name.

The trumpet shape is considered symbolic of the heralding of Jesus on his triumphant entry to Jerusalem. Scholars also believe the striking white flower may have also grown in that area.

The Angel Gabriel is said to have approached the Virgin Mary with a spray of lilies, announcing to her that she had been picked to be the mother of the holy child.

But if you'd like to have one in your home through the Lenten season, you better plan ahead.

Most florists in Shelby County have stopped carrying the flower, claiming that big stores sell them too inexpensively to compete with.

So the best way to get a hold of one in the county is to probably go through your church. Many churches look for donations from members to help decorate at Easter.

"People will donate money to help us decorate, and then after the service, they can take them home if they want," said Donna DeBroja with the Church of the Annunciation. "But most people don't want them, so we try to plant them."

The church has several starting to come up on the east side of its building at 105 Main St., but those plants won't bloom in time for Sunday's services.

Where do they get the fresh ones for each year?

Both DeBroja and Niki Nelson of First Baptist Church Shelbyville said they order from Lowe's on Taylorsville Road.

"Normally we order sixty, but this year we had to get seventy-four," Nelson said.

Representatives from Lowe's would not comment on how many they order each year, but the flowers already are difficult to find in the area.

Now, where exactly Lowe's gets their flowers is not known – reps at the store wouldn’t answer questions – but it's good bet they come from the same place almost all the Easter lilies in the world come from – a small stretch of land on the California and Oregon border known as "The Easter Lily Capital of the World."

Known for their purity and holiness, the Easter lily actually traces its origins to its native Japan, but during World War II the lilies were no longer imported.

According to the Easter Lily Research Foundation, with that pipeline cut off and the demand high, some 1,200 growers popped up between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Long Beach, Calif.

But over the years, the number of bulb producers dwindled to the best ones, and now just 10 farms in the region straddling that border produce nearly all the bulbs for the potted Easter lily market. Because of the quality grown there, the Japanese importers were never able to regain their share.

Now, more than 15 million bulbs are planted in the region each year to meet the demand.

And that demand remains high in Shelby County.

"It's just a wonderful way to enhance the service, with the beauty of all the lilies," Nelson said. "You can use them to decorate, and then plant them to enjoy for years. We have planted several on the grounds here [at First Baptist] in our garden area."