Greek lore tells us that Zeus’s son, Heracles (called Hercules by the Romans), was born of an extra-marital affair with the human woman, Alcmene. Zeus wanted his son to become a god, so he put his wife, Hera, into a deep sleep which allowed the infant to nurse at the breast of the goddess. Hercules (being famously strong) suckled so vigorously, that the milk began to overflow—creating the Milky Way in the heavens and white lilies on Earth.
Despite such a checkered (mythological) genesis, lilies have become symbolic of purity (or restored purity), and they are often used for weddings and funerals. In Christian artworks, they are often associated with the resurrected Christ or the Virgin Mary. The angel, Gabriel, is often shown holding a lily as he approaches Mary in The Annunciation. The French Fleur-de-Lys is a stylized lily used in heraldry or other graphic uses.
The plant is used culinary, as well, especially in Asia. The (sometimes bitter) bulbs are eaten has a root vegetable or dried and used as an herbal medication. The plant is also used to flavor or thicken soups and the flower, when consumed, is thought to reduce the discomfort of hot temperatures. The lily, however, is toxic—even deadly—to felines. Cats can experience kidney failure after eating the plant or its pollen.
In the wild, the plant usually blooms in July or August. Today, however, there are many cultivated ornamental hybrids and they are often “forced” to bloom for specific occasions, such as Easter.
The card above is part of our recently-acquired collection of Spring floral greeting cards, now in-store. It bears the botanical illustration of lillies in some of their red varieties.