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Propagating By Seeds

Lilies in general, either species or cultivars are self sterile. This means they will not produce seeds if their own pollen from the anthers is placed on the stigma. Because of this cross pollination is the only way seeds can be produced. When you think about it, nature is guaranteeing that each seed will have two different sets of Chromosomes and sexual cloning cannot occur. Each seed will have slight variations from others and minute genetic characteristics for good or bad are introduced into the gene pool. One of these random variations may create a yellow or red flower from orange parents, another variation may make a group of specimens more resistant to virus or fungal infections. Over time these minute variations might create a whole new species.

A great advantage of raising species lilies especially and cultivars from seeds is that if a group of lilies have a virus this does not pass to the seeds. Another advantage is since a single pod can have between 20-100 seeds it would not take many pods to create a huge population of any one variety. This makes it relatives inexpensive to produce commercial stock or slow dividing wild species. Some species are prohibited from being collected from wild stock due to declining populations and can only be purchased as seeds.

To grow lilies from seeds does not take a lot of room or money. You do not have to be botanist with a PHD. Anyone with a sense of adventure can hybridize in a relatively small space. I know from my own experience that it is a very exciting time when I see flower buds developing for the first time on some of my seedlings and when they open for the first time its like getting a Birthday Gift. Not all are going to be wonders to the lily world, but you do have the knowledge, that you created this hybrid and no other plant will be genetically identical, it will be one of a kind until it multiplies and makes more of itself. But, the best thing of all this is just maybe you will create a lily so phenomenal that it will take the Lily world by storm. That's what happened to the creator of the Oriental Lily "Stargazer". The parentage of Stargazer is unknown, but it is one of the biggest selling Lilies commercially in the world.

Before you can get seeds you have to cross pollinate two different plants. They can be the same species of lilies, two different species or different cultivars (Cultivated Varieties). Crossing two different species or cultivars is know as Hybridization, the offspring are hybrids of two different type of lilies. All the cultivars produced are from different parent types. Crossing two parents of the same species does not give you a hybrid as the seeds will breed true to form with minor differences. These differences if great enough from the original species description are normally called Varieties as opposed to hybrids.

There are basically two types of hybridizers. First the serious hybridizer that is looking to create a very specific characteristic in a new hybrid. They will keep well documented notes on their crossings and tag each seed pod with a code that they understand to keep their records straight. Then there is the second type which normally every novice hybridizer fall into (including myself). They just take pollen from their favourite lilies and go around like Johnny Appleseed spreading pollen to any other plant that catches their eye. Not really looking for a specific characteristic but just seeing what might happen to come up. The thrill of the potential new colourations is what makes it exciting for them. In time many out grow their "Playing" stage and get into more serious hybridization when their experience grows.

Choosing Parents to Cross

Before you can have seeds you must cross pollinate two different plants. It is important to understand that some plants just will not cross pollinate and produce viable offspring because they are just too different genetically. Orienpet varieties are the result of crossing Oriental Lilies with Trumpet Lilies. However the seeds produced will not germinate without intervention from humans and a sterile laboratory. So if you want to create your own lilies it is easier to stick within varieties when cross pollinating. As you get more advances in your knowledge you can try more difficult cross-variation hybrids.

So once you have decided which two plants you wish to cross you must decide which will be the mother plant and which will be the father plant. Each halve will pass on certain of its own characteristics more dominantly that the other. Switching the two around will produce a different look than the other cross.

Producing seeds

There are two ways to produce seeds. The first is by using natural pollinators, bees, birds, wind. When using this method and leaving chance to the wind sort of speaking, there may be pollen from more than one variety at the same time in the flower stigma. The outcome of such natural pollination is going to be totally random. You may end up with any number of variations in the same set of seedlings.

The other method is deliberate artificial pollination. This means the hybridizer crosses plants of his/her choice and takes precautions to prevent random stray pollen from contaminating their efforts.

When a hybridizer chooses his two potential parents they usually have characteristics that when combined will hopefully produce the lily pictured in the hybridizers mind. It might be a completed picture or an intermediate step to another crossing in mind. A hobby hybridizer has allot of advantages over a commercial hybridizer in that they can have a greater range of possible outcomes from a cross. There is no pressure to make a commercially viable plant to make profits from their sale.

The actual mechanics of hybridizing is quite simple, male pollen from the Anthers must be applied to the female Stigma. Pretty simple. But there are various steps to be done before this can happen.

The plant that is to be pollinated is called the Pod Parent, the plant whose pollen is to be used is called the Pollen Parent. First the Anthers should be removed from the Pod parent. This should be done before they get ripe and release their own pollen. If its own pollen gets on the Stigma it will not actually pollinate itself but may block the Pollen parents pollen from fertilizing the Pod parent. The Anthers can be removed by hand or tweezers

The Stigma of the Pod parent will ooze a clear sticky liquid when it is receptive to receiving pollen. This is the time to apply the pollen from the Pollen parent. The simplest way to apply the pollen is to take the Anther and spread the pollen evenly on the three lobed Stigma.

If the lilies bloom at different times it is possible to store pollen to be applied later. To do this take the Anthers just before they have split open, place them in a plastic container with the lid off and leave them in a warm dry place until the Anthers have split open and dried out. Label the lid of the container right away before you forget which plant it comes from. When the Anther is dry and the pollen is free place the closed plastic container in a regular refrigerator until the Pod parent become receptive. Pollen can be stored for months in this manner, it can also be frozen for much longer periods. Old film containers work well for this type of storage.

If using stored pollen to pollinate a Pod parent a Q-Tip works well as it is disposable. Once the Pod parent has been pollinated cover the Stigma with a cap made from folded aluminum foil. Shaping over the eraser end of a pencil usually give the proper size and shape for most lilies. The cap protects the Stigma from any stray pollen that might touch it and also damage from rain, chemicals or insects.

Label the cross clearly by tying a tag to the flower stem leading to that cross. When labeling mark down the Pod or Seed parent first and then the Pollen parent, for example, 'Monte Negro' x 'Night Flyer'. Also put on the date. You can also use a code number as well like Jn001/06 meaning this is the first cross you did in June 2006. This can be used in a notebook or a computer diary as a record column to keep track of the parentage of your seedlings.

From this point on your job is done and you can sit back and relax, let nature do what it is going to do. Either fertilization will occur and the pods will start to grow or it did not happen and they won't.

Collecting Seeds

If your crossing efforts were successful the lily ovary will start to enlarge as the seeds inside start to grow. Each variety of lily has a different size and shape of seed pod, but all will look swollen if the fertilization has taken place. If it has not the seed pod will look small and shriveled. The maturing of the seeds will take six to eight weeks before they begin to ripen. The ripe seed pod turns brown and will start to split along three lines getting ready to release the seeds it contains. It is best to collect the seed pods only in dry weather. If this is not possible due to a wet late summer or early fall or if the seeds are from late blooming varieties and there is not enough time leave the seed pods to fully ripen before frost. The flower stem can be cut while green or partially green and hung upside down in a warm dry place until the seed pods are fully ripened. Keep a close eye on them as they get ripe. If you have more than one cross on the same flower stem and the pods split open dropping their seeds, chances are they will get some overlap and seeds will be mixed up. If you have room to separate each flower cross with a white sheet of paper under them, with the cross information it will make your life easier. Another method that can be used if you do not have the time to check your hanging seed pods regularly is to put a square of fine mesh over the pod and secure with an elastic. This way of the pods dry before you can get to them the seeds will fall into the mesh net and you won't lose them.

The seeds should be removed from the pod when they are dry and allowed to fully dry before planting. This will reduce the chances of Botrytis forming. If is a good idea at this point now that the seeds are dry to check for the embryo with in the seed. To check for the embryo you can take an individual seed in a pair of forceps and hold it to a strong light. The embryo will look like a line in the middle of the seed. You can sort of see it in my photograph. Another method to check is to place the seeds on a white piece of paper or frosted glass and use a strong light source below. Some seeds have darker pigments so seeing the embryo might be difficult.

If you have trouble seeing the embryo it is safe to bet that if the seed is plump there is more than likely a viable embryo inside. If your planning to sow the seeds fairly soon you can store them in the refrigerator, in well sealed containers. Seeds can be survive for 35 or more years if they are stored in below freezing temperatures. If your going to store them for any length of time, label everything carefully. It would be next to impossible to identify crosses just by looking at the seeds.

Sowing Seeds

There are a number of ways seeds can be sown to get them to germinate. But no matter which method you use there are a couple of basic necessities that the seeds need in order to germinate. They are moisture, warmth and air. With these three necessities met, healthy seeds should have no problems getting started. Seeds can be started directly into trays of a seedling mix and covered with about .25in (6mm) of vermiculite, sand or grit. Space the seeds out to allow air circulation and prevent Dampin Off, which is a fungus disease that can attack seedlings. Spray the trays with water and place them in a warm area. If you have the clear plastic lids used for seedling trays you can place them over to slow down water evaporation. Moisture is extremely important to get the seeds to germinate and start growing. If the medium dries out before they will more than likely die very quickly.

Another method that I used to germinate my seedlings is I dampen some vermiculite and put some in a Ziplock bag. Then I place the seeds inside the bag and put them under my growing lights. The warmth from the florescent fixtures raises the internal bag temperature and the seedling seem to start germinating in a week or so. Some take longer. With this method I had very few seeds that did not germinate. Once the seeds gave germinated they have to be replanted into trays one at a time. It is very time consuming and if you have allot of seedlings it might be easier to use the first mentioned method so you do not have to transplant. I just found I had a greater success rate using the Ziplock method. You will have to experiment and figure out which method works for you depending on over all time you have to spend with your crosses.

Germination Methods

Lilies have two types of germination methods depending on the variety. Epigeal or 'Above Ground' and Hypogeal or 'Below Ground'. These two methods are further subdivided into two sub-methods, Immediate and Delayed. For the most part the categories most lilies fall into are Immediate Epigeal and Delayed Hypogeal. It is important to know which category your seeds fall into, as the handling of them for germination is different.

In Epigeal germination The seeds sprout very quickly after it has been exposed to moisture and warmth. A long slender Cotyledon emerges, quite often carrying the seed coat at the tip. The cotyledon is not a true leaf but a temporary pseudo-leaf to that does contain Chlorophyll to start manufacturing food in order to initiate the growth of the underground bulb. From there the true leaves will form. As the bulb grows more leaves will be formed which in turn makes more food to be stored in the bulb. Asiatics and Trumpets use Epigeal germination methods.

Seeds can be sown outside if you have large quantities of crosses. The seed beds must have excellent drainage and a high fertility level to maximize bulb growth in the first season. Outdoor germination is usually done in the large commercial hybridizers as the soil is usually sterilized chemically to control pests and diseases. But if you wish to do germinate yours outside the beds are prepared in the Spring for Epigeal germinated seeds. The beds must never be allowed to dry out during the germination stage. Fertilizing should be a low nitrogen fertilizer to allow maximum nutrients for the formation of roots and bulb. Slow release fertilizer when the beds are prepared and later in July should be enough for the season. Keep an eye open for Botrytis and spray to control it if necessary. The beds must be free of weeds at all times as they are competing for nutrients that your growing seedlings should be using. Insects must also be controlled especially Aphids. It is better to use a systemic granular insecticide as spraying may damage tender new leaves.

For greenhouse operations, beds can be right at ground level or trays of soil can be used or raised beds that hold soil. The soil once again must have good drainage capabilities. Everything must be sterilized just as if you were planting in outdoor beds.

To germinate seedlings in containers and a wide variety of containers and media are available. Soilless seedling mix is a good media to use as it is light and airy. Flats or pots can be used to hold the mix depending on your needs. The flats or pots can then be put either into a greenhouse, coldframe or under artificial lights around February. What I use to germinate my seedling is damp vermiculite in ziplock bags. This method has worked very successfully for me with either Epigeal or Hypogeal germination.

These pictures were taken in 2004 and shows some of my seedlings under fluorescent lights. I use regular commercial 4 tube instant on florescent fixtures. For lights they are a mixture of two cool white and two warm white tubes that can be bought at any hardware store. The lights were kept no higher than 4 inches above the top of the seedlings.

Delayed Epigeal is not a method of germination used by very many Lilies. Some species seem to need a cold period before germinating.

Hypogeal germination is a pattern where the seeds germinate slowly underground. Instead of pushing out a Cotyledon right away it stays inside the seed coat underground. The seed will put all its energy into producing a tiny bulb. Once the bulblet forms it needs to go through a cold period for about three months. I put mine in the refrigerator in marked Ziplock bags. You can actually see the bulblet and root mixed in with the vermiculite.

Oriental lilies use Delayed Hypogeal germination. Once the seeds are collected and dried they can be sown in the plastic storage bags with either vermiculite, peat, or a mixture of the two. The moisture level of the medium is very important, it must be damp and not wet. If you can squeeze water out of the medium then it is too wet. The roots require oxygen and to much water will drown the newly growing roots. Do not completely close off the bags so air can come enter. Make sure you clearly label each bag.

The bags are then places in an incubation area at 60-70F (15C/21C) for three to four months. During this time the seeds will germinate, grow a root and start forming the bulblet. The Cotyledon does not form yet. Once the bulbs and roots are formed the bags are moved into a cooling area at approximately 50F (10C) for about three weeks. After that they are placed in cold storage for a minimum of 12 weeks at 34F (1C). This cold period is called the Vernalization period.

After the Veralization Period is over you can plant them outside when the soil temperatures and light requirements can be met for immediate growth. The bulblets should produce true leaves in about a week after planting. You can also plant them inside under lights in the same method as Epigeal seeds are planted.

Immediate Hypogeal germination is used only by a few species of lilies. L.brownii and L.dauricum show this type of germination regularly. They can be sown at the same time as Epigeal germinators.

Embryo Rescue

There are times when two very different varieties of lilies get cross pollinated and seeds may form. However due to genetic differences between the two plants there is an incompatibility between the the embryo, which contains a set of chromosomes from both parents and the endosperm or food source within the cell, which only has chromosomes from the mother plant. This incompatibility often leads to the disintegration of the endosperm and subsequent death of the embryo.

If the embryo can be removed from the seed before this takes place it can be grown in a test tube in a similar way as tissue culture is done. The advance in technology to be able to do this has lead to the development of the Orientpet (Oriental/Trumpet) and Asiapet (Asiatic/Trumpet) hybrids that are all the rage in the Lily world.

As to when the embryos should be rescued depends on the cross. Some abort just before the pod would normally open. Others are shortly after pollination. Some experimentation maybe necessary. You may have to no multiples of the same cross and open them at different times to see what is happening in the seed pod.

Embryo culture can be done by the home hybridizer and supplies are available. The first thing you will need is a clean working area that is comfortable to work at since this is not a quickly done process. Then a glass topped box of some sort to provide a sterile space to work in. You may be able to adapt an over turned aquarium with one side or partial side glass removed to allow access tot he enclosed space. Sterilize the inside of the box with alcohol or bleach. You might be able to install an ultraviolet lamp inside the box. Ultraviolet light is a germicide and is used to sterilize a work area. Your test tubes which will have your medium already inside need to be sterilized in a pressure cooker at 15psi for 20 minutes.

Once all that is done, you have to begin removing the live embryos from their seed case. This is done by cutting the seed case parallel to the the embryo as close as you can to the embryo. Then lifting one half of the seed case off and using a pair of fine forceps or a knife blade to lift the embryo and put it into the test tube of nutrient solution. Immediately cover the test tube and place it in a standing rack. Do not forget to label them before going on to the next one.

The embryos can be put into natural or artificial light and if they are not contaminated they should start growing quickly. Keep a very close watch on your test tubes as contamination may not show up right away. If you do see contamination, you can try to pull the embryo out of the test tube, re-sterilize it and put it into another test tube, but this quite often does not work and the embryo is lost.

The key to all this is to keep your area sterile as possible. Wear surgical gloves that can be bought through Pharmacies or Medical Supply places. Keep your instruments sterile with a 10% bleach solution and distilled water. Distilled water is just condensed steam, meaning it is H20 and nothing else. Tap water is full of chemicals, algae and microscopic life. Rotate your blades and forceps after every rescue and put the used ones to soak in the bleach solution.

If you are successful in keeping the tubes from becoming contaminated, your embryo will start to turn green as chlorophyll is produced in about a week. Then roots and leaves will start to form to continue feeding the growing plant. After about 6-12 weeks the little plantlets can be removed from the test tube by something like a large crochet hook or similar tool. All medium that is clinging to the roots is washed off gently with running water. At this time is it good to soak the seedling in a liquid fungicide at its weakest strength. The soil they are to be transferred to should be very light, a pre-made seedling mix can be found at garden centers or you can make your own mix. The internet has great resources for seedling mix recipes. The soil it is to be planted in should be pasteurized.


To pasteurize place the soil in a seedling tray or backing dish to a depth of no more than 4 inches. Do not pack it down. Moisten it if it is not already moist. Do not over wet it. Place a thermometer into the center of the pan but do not allow it to touch the bottom of the tray. Place the tray in the oven at approximately 200F. Maintain the soil temperature to 160F for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before using.


Once the plantlets are in the soil it is important to keep them misted and evenly moist as they adjust to the less humid environment outside of the test tube. They will then be placed in a warm environment with temperatures steady at 50-70F (10-21C) in good light for six to eight weeks. This will give them time to grow a good rooting system before they go into their cooling phase. The cooling phase lasts about 12 weeks at a temperature of 38F(3C). Then they can be planted in their growing site where they will continue growing until they flower in a season or two.

This gives you a general idea on how Embryo Rescue is done. More detailed information can be found on the internet for those who wish to make the attempt. Just remember not every type of cross can be made using Embryo Rescue techniques.

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