“A stargazer lily for Valentine’s Day??? Oh, you shouldn’t have! No, really. You shouldn’t have.” is the response that many people make to this large and fragrant lily flower.
People I know either love or hate Lilium orientalis ‘Stargazer.’ I never really had an opinion about them, so after my friend emailed me asking, “Why do so many arrangements include those awful star lilies that smell so strongly and make permanent orange stains on stuff?” I decided to find out a bit more about them.
I did already know about how their pollen can stain clothing. I learned that the hard way when I was a kid. The stains will eventually fade, especially if you use a pre-treater before throwing the stained clothing in the washer. Luckily most of my clothes at the time were kid-friendly hand-me-downs that my brother had already “broken in” before he outgrew them. It’s more of a problem when you start wearing nicer clothes….like that “dry clean only” blue sweater that is now the blue sweater with rust-colored spots (I guess I can call it speckled robin egg). If you notice the pollen has landed on your clothes before you’ve smeared it everywhere, you actually have a chance of preventing any stains if you quickly knock the pollen off by shaking the clothing or flicking your finger on the backside of the affected area. Just be careful that you don’t fling it onto someone else’s clothes. It’s the smearing and unsuccessful attempts to brush it off that cause the stains.
These flowers are everywhere these days but have only been around since 1978 when they were first cultivated in California (Does that make it a California native? Politically, yes; botanically, no). They quickly became a Valentine’s Day favorite because of their pinks and reds, and the ability to charge a lot of money for them. We also typically see them around Mother’s Day because what mom wouldn’t enjoy their strong fragrance that quickly overpowers any unpleasant odors that may be emanating from their children….unless of course mom is too busy sneezing from an allergic reaction to the pollen.
For lovers of the stargazer lily, you can make them last longer in water by removing the pollen-laden anthers. You can do the same for stargazers still growing on the plant, too, either in a pot or in the ground. Sure, they won’t pollinate if there isn’t any pollen to be had, but there’s no use trying to get them to seed anyway since they’re a cultivar (although they are often mistakenly referred to as a “hybrid”). Their seeds will not produce another stargazer lily.
If you can find the bulbs, you can even try to grow them yourself in pots or loose, well-drained soil. Plant them in the fall or spring and give them full sun. They aren’t as easy to grow as other lilies, so if you’re new to lilies you’d be better off starting out with Asiatic lilies. They come in a variety of colors and are a bit simpler than stargazers. If you hate stargazers, you’ll probably appreciate these more anyway.