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Garden Myth: Removing Lily Anthers Prolongs Flowering

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Removing the stamens from a lily flower doesn’t prolong its bloom. Photo: PD-PDPHOTO.ORG, Wikimedia Commons

You often hear that removing the anthers (or entire stamens) from lily flowers will make them last longer, but is it true?

I’m afraid not. Removing the anthers—those tubular growths jutting out of the flower and coated in yellow, orange or brown pollen—or even completely removing the stamens—the filaments to which the anthers are attached—won’t add 5 minutes to how long the flower lasts. Bummer!

Like many garden myths, there is a logical idea behind this belief. The belief is that, if the anthers were removed, the plant would have more energy to put into flowering. But maintaining the anthers requires very little energy, as they are already deployed when the flower opens, and no, the flower doesn’t make more pollen to replace the pollen removed by insects. How long the flower actually lasts depends on a mix of genetics and weather conditions and it will remain open for 2 or 3 weeks, anthers or not.

Intact lily flowers (left) are much more attractive than emasculated ones (left). Photos: Wikimedia Commons

This is good news, because removing the anthers, or entire stamens, greatly reduces the beauty of the flower … and it’s a meticulous, time-consuming task the laidback gardener can well live without.

Avoiding Pollen Stains

So much for lilies in the garden, but what about when you bring them indoors as cut flowers or as (temporary) houseplants?

That’s when it may be wise to remove the anthers. Not that the flower will last any longer that way, but lily pollen causes hard-to-remove stains that easily penetrate many fabrics (clothes, curtains, carpets, etc.). If you plan to place a bouquet of cut lilies on a valuable tablecloth, for example, it would be better to remove the anthers … and to do so outdoors, before you place the vase on the table!

Or take a laidback attitude and place the bouquet on a plastic tablecloth, one that won’t absorb pollen!

Removing Pollen Stains

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Lily pollen can stain fabrics. Photo: Max Pixel

But pollen stains do happen, so it’s nice to know how to handle them.

To remove fresh lily pollen from a fabric without staining it, gently brush and knock it off. Or touch the fabric with sticky tape or a lint roller (the type used to remove pet fur and dandruff from clothes) and the pollen will stick to it.

Don’t touch lily pollen with your hands: the oils your fingers produce can fix it to the fabric. Nor should you rub the fabric with a damp cloth: it will penetrate the fabric and be harder to remove.

You could also try placing the stained fabric on a sunny windowsill for a day or two: the sun will bleach the pollen until it is nearly invisible (this works best with yellow pollen; not so well with orange or brown shades).

Oops! It’s too late and the pollen stain seems to have fully integrated the fabric? Apply a commercial stain remover as per the instructions and wash the fabric at a high temperature. That should get the stain out!20170722C PD-PDPHOTO.ORG, WC ENG

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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