Hybridizing is an activity in which both professional and amateur can focus on the desire to improve on a variety (usually a favourite plant) or to create something entirely new. Most of the techniques are simple and straightforward. The most important of all the techniques is very good record keeping.

Plan the crosses you wish to make, taking into account the quality and characteristics you wish the resulting seedlings to have. These may include disease resistance, habit, colour, and vigour. One should choose the stronger lily that displays some of the characteristics you wish to improve or enhance as the pod or seed parent. The reason for choosing the stronger plant for the seed parent is that this parent passes on the majority of the genetic material. You may find that you need to make a succession of crosses to reach your desired result. One thing to keep in mind when looking at the pool of lilies in your yard, is that those that you deem as less than satisfactory specimens will rarely contribute to producing excellent seedlings. To quote one plant breeder "by selecting outstanding parents [there is the chance] that a rare individual seedling obtained might exceed both parents in desirability."

Although experimentation can be fun you must be prepared for disappointments, in fact, more failures than success. The reason is quite simple - the genetic of lilies are complex. The genetic make up of the parents you select is largely unknown, therefore the qualities you seek may not be passed to the seedlings produced in your cross. This phenomenon is known as regression, in which the seedling of a cross has a tendency to drop back from many of the parental characteristics to the average characteristics of the lily population.

Two books that may provide some insight into the genetics of lilies are The Lily, by Jefferson-Brown, the chapter on hybridizing; and Lilies, by Ed McRae, again review the chapter on hybridizing. Of these two references Jefferson-Brown offers a more complete overview of dominant and recessive characters within the lily genome.

Getting Started

Most of the equipment you need is at hand. You will need a small pair of tweezers or forceps. These are used in collecting the pollen-covered anthers. Small vials such as prescription vials with locking caps or glass vials are ideal, these are used to store a set of anthers from one of the parent plants . Labels record the name of the pollen parent, date of collection, and location (your garden or Joe's garden). The label is placed on the vial.

Allow the anthers four or five days to dry before removing them (or the pollen) from the vial. In a notebook record this information under the cross or crosses that you have intended for this pollen source. With small, waterproof tags or tags made of heavy construction cardboard; tag the bloom or blooms you will pollinate with this specific pollen source. Water proof ink, Pelikan's or KOH-I-NOOR's are ideal for writing on cloth based tags. These tags can also be the paper stringed "price tags" which are available at most stationery stores and upon which the use of pencil is fairly permanent. You will need to mark these blooms so that you will know the cross when you collect the seedpod in about six weeks.

An excellent method of pollen preparation and pollinating is described in Let's Grow Lilies! The pollen-laden anthers are placed on good quality bond paper, labeled as to source, and the anthers allowed to dry for up to five days. If the pollen from the anthers is not used within this time, you may fold up the paper into a packet, place it into a relatively airtight container, and store in the freezer. Frozen pollen in this manner can be viable for many years.

Once you have selected the lily(ies) you wish to pollinate (these are called seed parents), select buds on these that are just ready to open. Do not pollinate flowers which have been opened even that morning as they more than likely have been pollinated.. On the selected buds, peel back the petals thereby exposing the stigma, and carefully remove the anthers. Using either a fine paintbrush or a piece of pipe cleaner, apply the pollen you collected from your donor lily (the pollen parent). Once the pollen is applied make an aluminum foil tube to cover the stigma. This is easily done with a pencil by placing a small square of foil over the end of the pencil to form the tube. Now, place the foil tube over the stigma and gently pinch the proximal end of the foil tube, but do not damage the style. This will keep the 'cap' from becoming dislodged. Finally, tag the seed parent. Make sure to provide sufficient information on the tag or assign a specific number so that the harvested seedpod can be matched to the data you have recorded in your notebook regarding this specific cross. Remember excellent planning and note taking is the key to success.


There are notebooks available from biological supply houses, these books have waterproof pages (all-weather notebook from Carolina Biological Supply). Fine brushes, vials and weatherproof tags can also be obtained from this source. Pipe cleaners, paintbrushes, quality bond paper and India ink are available from art or craft supply shops. Tweezers, aluminum foil, and paper towels can be purchased at most drug stores. As mentioned previously the paper price tags can be purchased at most stationery supply stores.

Final Thoughts and Comments

When considering the potential crosses you might wish to make, research the lilies you are considering. Obtain as much information on each lily as you can.  One of the better sources is the Register produced by the Royal Horticulture Society, England. Also, consult with local hybridizers. Spend time observing how the lilies you may wish to use in crosses grow under varying soil and moisture conditions. All of these sources will permit you to make an informed decision.

A suggestion from Art Delahey regarding lilies which have varying amounts of pink - he feels that many of these lilies will have descended from Patterson's great Edith Cecilia thereby simplifying the research on parentage. Furthermore, Art believes that many of the lilies on the prairies, up to 35%, may carry genes of Edith Cecilia.

Finally, in an editorial written by Herb Sunley, CPLS's first president, Herb provides another perspective when evaluating products from this process "[using the NALS seed exchange] grow and compare the breeding efforts of others with your own trial run. It is quite a fascinating little hobby, I can assure you. And sometime rank amateurs like myself may produce a good one. On my efforts, it is more good fortune than by knowledge or any good preconceived notions about colour makeup in flowers that accounts for my success".

written by Ed Driver


Virginia Howie (1964) Let's Grow Lilies: an illustrated handbook of lily culture. NALS, Owatonna, MN., 48pp. Michael Jefferson-Brown (1988) The Lily: for garden, patio and display. David & Charles, London, 192pp. Edward McRae (1998) Lilies: a guide for growers and collectors. Timber Press, Porland, Oregon. 392pp.