Since I was young I have loved the bright orange prairie lily when it grew prolifically in the wild. It brightened the ditches bordering all Saskatchewan roads and highways. It isn’t spotted so easily today and I miss it. When the pioneers first came to the prairies, during the summer months there were thousands of bright red and orange prairie lilies blooming. The decline of this flower led to it becoming protected by the Provincial Emblems and Honours. Simply stated don’t pick the lilies! It grows from a bulb so once the bulb is pulled out the flower will no longer grow. I said protected. Yeppers, the act boldly says: “No person shall pick, cut down, dig, pull up, injure or destroy, in whole or in part, whether in blossom or not, the plant that produces the flower that is the floral emblem of Saskatchewan.”
Over-picking and increased use of herbicides has led to declining numbers.
Unless you are a stranger to Saskatchewan, you know the Prairie Lily is the floral emblem of our pretty rectangular province and blooms forever on the Saskatchewan flag. It was August 1906 that King Edward VII granted a coat of arms to the province of Saskatchewan with this lily embedded within. As it is written: “The flower known botanically as lilium philadelphicum andinum, and popularly called the “prairie lily”, shall be the floral emblem of the province.” If you are a history buff, well no surprise that our remarkable province was only ONE year old when the King ordained the prairie lily OUR flower! Unique or what?? (Might be a bit of an exaggeration!)
Its appearance varies depending on its local environment. Always beautiful, the lilies stand out brilliantly in flaming orange and red against a natural green background. They were a delight to see during road trips so many years ago. Today we are wowed to see our personal cultivated lily blooming in rainbow of colours in yards and flower beds across North America.
Swallowtail butterflies mostly pollinate it, but is also visited by hummingbirds. These birds can collect nectar without touching the plant’s reproductive structures. For this reason, they are less effective pollinators than butterflies. When its blooms are finished, sadly this plant is often overlooked. If, like myself, you are a lily lover, you have to be patient when planting. Grown from seeds – which are 3 sided capsules about an inch long – this plant often takes up to four years to produce flowers! But we can let the nurseries do the leg work and purchase them full bodied.
I did a bit of digging (no pun intended) and read that this pretty flower is edible and is also a source of vitamin C and pro-vitamin A. The Prairie Lily was a staple food of many native tribes. The Indigenous people of the Plains and early settlers used the lily for medicinal and food purposes.
Vegetatively, the lily reproduces from bulbs composed of starchy scales. Bulbs were boiled and eaten. Tea brewed from the lily treated stomach disorders, coughs, and fevers. Poultices were applied for swellings, bruises, spider bites, and wounds. Steamed lily was considered a potato substitute. White settlers did learn a few plant-based remedies from the Indigenous people, and a few prairie plants were prescribed by frontier doctors. But in both the number of species used and the varieties of treatments administered, the Indigenous were far more proficient than white settlers.
A creature I dislike very much and has me running to Randy’s protection, also enjoy this lily. The mouse-like vole! The Cree first discovered this and gave the lily another name: mouse-root. Another enemy reared its head on the prairies the summer of 2020. The enemy even smaller than the vole was a tiny invasive foreign insect known as the red lily beetle. Researchers believed the insect arrived in Canada in a shipment of infected bulbs.
I always wish this flower would bloom much longer because when it isn’t, this plant is so overlooked. Hail to this orange plant for choosing the prairies to live on. “Us” other planted residents know personally that Saskatchewan can be a punishing place to call home. Our winters are bitterly cold so this hardy lily just digs down farther for preservation to amaze and mesmerize us summer after prairie summer.
One day late spring, our son came from the shop carrying something truly remarkable. Out of a piece of old steel, once belonging to a combine that rattled across a dusty prairie field, he had grinded, cut, welded, polished and created a tall steel prairie lily. Studying photos and the lilies by our home, the detail was remarkable. All summer he has been creating these breathtaking steel lilies. Each one unique. Just like our prairie lily and you!
Life is a beautiful thing and like the lily, it is also an endangered species. It is fragile, the heart – like a bulb can be cut down, injured and destroyed – in whole or in part. During our 50+ years of marriage, life has had many rough spots, some really dark seasons that made us dig down deep and wait, knowing that winter will pass. Natalie Sleeth expressed it flawlessly in her beautiful song: “In the bulb there is a flower, in the seed, an apple tree, in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free! In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”
Please take care of yourself these awesome dwindling days of August.
Just a few of our son’s sculptures. If interested email: firstname.lastname@example.org