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What Is the Meaning of White Lilly?

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The white lily is a flower familiar to most, both because of its beauty and because of the rich symbolic meaning various cultures have given to it.

The Flower

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The white lily's scientific name is Lilium candidum. According to its USDA PLANTS profile, it's a member of the lily family (Liliaceae) and genus (Lilium). It is a six-petaled flower with six stamens, white in color with yellow at the base of each flower. Desert Tropicals states that it originates from the Balkans and Middle East.

Religious Significance

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The white lily is also commonly referred to as the Madonna Lily and is strongly associated with the purity of the Virgin Mary, especially in Roman Catholicism.

Meaning in the Song of Songs

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Some scholars, including Abraham Bin Ezra, assert that the word "shoshannah" in the biblical Song of Songs refers to the white lily, and not to a rose as is commonly thought. Thus, the narrator describes his love's exceptional beauty by saying, "As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters."

Meaning in the Victorian Era

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The Victorians assigned detailed meanings to all common flowers and used them to communicate with each other. In her book "The Language of Flowers", Kate Greenaway listed the white lily as representing purity, modesty, and sweetness.

Figurative language

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Because of the strong cultural link between the white lily and the qualities of purity and modesty, this flower pops up in figurative descriptions (sometimes including negative or sarcastic ones) of people as pure and innocent. "Lily-white" is the most common phrase used to describe people in this way.

Planting Sego Lily

The sego lily plant grows from a single bulb, developing gray-green, narrow leaves that emerge from and surround the center of the bulb. The lovely flower has three petals, is goblet-shaped and up to 3 inches in diameter. Because sego lily seeds germinate very slowly, choose either a container-grown sego lily plant or a dormant bulb for your garden. In early spring, dig a hole for your plant deep enough for it to be at the same depth as it was in its pot. A sego lily may not bloom every year, since it often takes several years for the bulb to store enough nutrients to support a flower. If these are prevalent in your area, you can protect your bulbs by constructing an underground enclosure for them from chicken wire or other fencing that has small openings.

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