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Lilium catesbaei has been given a bad reputation because it's been nearly impossible to acquire anywhere in the world (until now!) and even expert lily growers have had poor results growing these lilies.  Here's an example from B&D lilies: http://www.lilybulb.com/ls25.html


Good news is, this plant is now readily available, and we got lucky on our first try and figured it out on our first try.  IF you think about growing these like Carnivorous plants (which is the key to success), they're easier to grow than a venus fly trap!  Perhaps others haven't had much luck with these plants because they were trying to grow them somewhat like other lilies, except slightly submerged in water.  These plants HATE being submerged in any amount of water!  So how do you grow these plants?  


From seeds, you can sow them on the surface of pure, good quality peat moss.  Absolutely no treatment is required, but these seeds require light to germinate, so do not cover them!  Use distilled or deionized water like you would for carnivorous plants.  For best results, the soil temperature should be maintained at or close to around 27C (80F) to get uniform germination.  After about 2 weeks, you'll see roots pop out from the embryo, but it can take up to a month for them to fully sprout.


Watering is key to success:keep the soil as wet as possible, but NEVER waterlogged!  well, there's probably exceptions to the rule, like growing them in tall pots, but if the roots rot, you can't say I didn't warn ya!    The roots hate having wet feet and will rot if you keep them wet for too long.  As a reminder, water quality is also key, since these plants are relatively sensitive to salts.


Anyhow, maybe a month or two after germinating, you'll start to see 2-3 leaves form, and  little bulbs will become visible on the surface of the soil!  At this stage, you can start fertilizing.  While these plants aren't as sensitive to salts in the water as carnivores in general, they're more sensitive than other lilies, and can tolerate only slightly higher salt concentrations in comparison to Sarracenia.  I recommend trying 1/5 concentration of maxsea fertilizer (16-16-16) twice a month maximum.  Keep in mind, it only takes one over-fertilizing application to kill the whole batch, so be conservative with the concentration and frequency of fertilizers.  Here's what they look like when you can start feeding them, although if you want to be on the safe side, you can wait a little longer as these still have sufficient food in the peat and seed to grow at an optimal rate:



Once you have hardened off seedlings, you can slowly acclimate them to full sun.  They love as much light as you can give them, just like Sarracenia!  After being grown for a full season, plants will form a bulb on the surface of the soil and it'll look like this if you kept your plants happy.  Every last one of these bulbs bloomed the following year, even the small ones!





At this stage, they will naturally start to go dormant, so don't worry if you see leaves yellowing and falling off.  Eventually, all you will see is a bulb.  If you have a community pot, this is a good time to transplant them into a bigger pot and space them out so they have room to grow for next season.   Be very careful, the bulbs are very fragile and will break into pieces if you apply pressure on them.  I recommend cutting the roots  to ensure bulbs aren't destroyed (just leave a stub and they'll grow back strong the next year).


These plants require a cool winter dormancy, and in the wild it has been as cold as -15C (5F) in recent years (edit:I just flowered a seedling after 6 months, no cool dormancy!  it was probably caused by heat stress though and the flower was a freak, as it emerged from a  side leaf, not the main growth point!).   When they are dormant, keep the bulbs moist at all times but never water-logged!  Absolutely no fertilizer too, you'll kill them. 


Once they come back in the spring and you see 3 or 4 new leaves, start fertilizing with the same regime as menitoned above.  Around early summer, they'll start to look like this:




Late summer to early fall, if the plants are going to bloom, they will start to grow upwards and form a stalk, like this:



Some leaves at the bottom may start to turn yellow or purplish, don't worry about it.  The plant is translocating nutrients into the flower stalk, and this is totally normal.  Continue to fertilize around 2x a month maximum with the 1/5 strength fertilizer.


About 2 weeks before the plants bloom, the flower bud will swell up and look like this.  This is about the last time you want to fertilize until next year:




If you did everything right and have multiple happy plants, you'll end up with scenes like this.  They don't tend to bloom all at the same exact time, which is actually nice because the flowers only last about a week, but with staggered openings, the blooming period can last for a few weeks:




Lots of flower buds here:





Normally, L. catesbaei has 6 petals, but we've found some with 8, and my friend has one with 9 petals!




Never documented before until now, we've managed to get 3 heads produced on a single stalk.  I'm not aware of anyone ever finding this happening in nature, or in cultivation:



We even found a peachy clone, really beautiful:




Another shot:



Some standard looking clones:




  I case you haven't noticed, I grow these in  shallow community trays with great success.  They could probably benefit from a deeper container.    Anyhow, a thick layer of moss develops on the surface of the peat after a year or two of growing in the same substrate.  Every winter, I scrape this off and replace it with fresh peat.  As long as you originally spaced the bulbs out well, they'll keep growing into thicker and thicker clumps year after year.  Other online resources  suspected these plants are monocarpic (grow, bloom, and then die off) but keep them happy, and they'll continue to come back year after year:







So there you have it!  PM or email me with any questions you may have (address in my signature line below), or feel free to post here.

Edited by meizwang
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Thank you Richard!  I recommend sowing in spring once it warms up, but you could start them indoors anytime of the year under lights, so long as the soil is kept warm.

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  • 6 years later...

Great info! I have had success in growing these lilies from seed, but lost plants later on once they reached maturity.  The plants do very well during the growing season, but once the flower bud forms, the leaves turn yellow, then brown. The flower bud stops growing and aborts days before blooming. This has happened in both plants growing in a 4" pots as well as ones planted in a bath tub with sarracenia and sundews growing just inches away. After the growing season I see new green leaves emerge indicating the plant is still. Root rot while the bulb is still available?

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