It is easy enough to get seed. All one has to do is look at the list from NALS seed exchange or catalogues like Thompson & Morgan. But soon this becomes too tame and one decides to produce his own seed.
At this point a problem arises. As long as one sticks to such lilies as coral lilies, martagon-hansonii hybrids or the Caucasian lilies (see Lilies by Edward McRae, Timber Press, for definitions of these lilies), the seeds ripen nicely out in the lily patch. But for other lilies the season is not long enough. The pods are just swelling nicely when the frost hits them. The problem is to ripen the seed.
If one has a greenhouse - no problem. Just pot up the plant and bring it inside and keep it there until the seeds are ripe. In fact, the whole plant does not need to be used. Dig it up. Pull off and replant the bulb. Then take the stem with the stem-roots intact and pot it up. If an effort has been made to keep as much dirt as possible on the roots, they will usually be able to keep the stem in good condition while the seeds ripen. It is when no greenhouse is available that difficulties arise. I have partly solved the problem by installing a set of lights in the basement. The space is very limited, so, in spring I pot up one or two lilies I intend to use as seed parents and then pollinate nearly every flower with different pollen so as to get as many different crosses as I can from a very few plants. For trumpet lilies I find that it is usually after the first of August before I can pollinate and that it is getting on to the first of December before the seeds are ripe. Probably this is because the temperature in the basement is on the cool side.
I have tried other methods with some success. If the pods are reasonably well developed when a frost warning comes, they can be cut off and let dry in an upright position. They take some time to dry out and frequently give a few viable seeds. I tried keeping them in water like cut flowers but in a very few days the water would smell and the stems would rot - even when the water was changed frequently. I also tried putting sugar in the water to help feed the stem and potassium permanganate to try to stop the rotting but with little if any better results.
At that time I belonged to a Round Robin and one other member Clara Bangs suggested that if one used honey instead of sugar the results would be better. I tried unpasteurized honey from my own bee hive and found that it made a big difference. It took many days before the liquid began to smell at all. I suppose I could have replaced it with a fresh batch but since the pods were well developed I just cut off the bottom and let them dry out. I have harvested some very well formed seeds from them.
These are all the methods I have tried to produce seed [beyond the lily patch], and they all have produced seed. I would like to make two other comments.
- First, if you don't want to miss any possibilities and there does not seem to be any seed in the pod, plant the chaff. You will frequently get two or three seedlings.
- Second, for pollinating, you can keep pollen from one year to the next in the deep freeze, and it will still be good [make sure the container you use has a tight seal].
by Fred Tarlton (CPLS Newsletter #13:2-3) 1976