Well, duh on me. This week I’ve been researching Lilium longflorum (Easter lily) to find out what, if anything, might be happening to cause the loss of fragrance I’d noticed in the plants so ubiquitous now in supermarkets. (I wonder what they do with the leftovers on Easter Monday?) But all I found were warnings about pet poisoning. Every part of of a lily is deadly to cats, apparently, with even the smallest nibble of a leaf causing kidney failure and subsequent death. We’re not talking About.com either—this was in the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and other major dailies, with reputable vets and the ASPCA as sources. As Easter lilies are one of the biggest flower crops in the U.S. (11 million a year), that’s a lot of sick animals.
I’ve been growing lilies for eight years and living with cats for over ten, and I had never heard this—or noticed it. Other gardeners seem to be as unaware of this deadliness as I was, as this quote from Claire Span’s Alameda Garden demonstrates: “And I’m not the only one who loves them. My cat Linus greeted me today with his white mustache dyed orange from the lilly’s pollen. Apparently he finds the scent irresistable too.” A long string of posts on the Yahoo lily group gives additional anecdotal evidence that cats and lilies can co-exist.
But just as I’ve discussed before (in reference to humans), there is a long list of plants that can harm pets, including azalea, oleander, tulips, hyacinths, yew, our old friend castor bean, and many others. Lilies aren’t on the human list; the lily bulb is often prepared in various ways and eaten. (Not by me, not at $20 a pop for the more rarified Orienpets.)
I often have lilies in the house—either my own or store-bought—and my cat’s never suffered for it, or been seen eating them. Cats are highly variable creatures; some are inveterate plant eaters, while others don’t go near them. I never buy the longiflorum anyway; too much sacrificial baggage, and they’re not hardy here, as almost all other lilies are.
Before I get off this, I must also comment that on Friday one of our local right-wing talk radio guys was going on and on about Easter lilies and pets—but if he had heard about the safe lawn event Susan just wrote about, he would have denounced all the participants as crazy hippies. This is s station where lawn companies (that dispense all kinds of chemicals) advertise year-round.
More unambiguously documented is the alarming news that another harbinger of spring (one that doesn’t need to be forced), the magnolia tree, is in very serious danger. Although only about fifteen cultivars of magnolia are used in domestic plantings, there are over 200 wild magnolias and 131 of these (most found in Asia) are threatened with extinction. I received this news via a press release from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, which also reports that conservation efforts are now underway under the direction of the Global Trees Campaign. I’ve never seen a magnolia in the wild, but I’ve long appreciated the beauty of the domestic magnolias that do so well in urban areas like Buffalo. The trees are losing ground to farming, woodcutting, “horticultural demand,” and the medicinal plant trade. And if the trees are endangered, the forests are endangered, like so many others worldwide.
I feel somewhat out of touch with nature on this holiday weekend. The magnolia news simply documents more threats to habitats of trees and plants everywhere. Closer to home, bitter weather prohibits getting in touch with the soil. In a few weeks, all this will change. Well, the big issues won’t change, but I’ll be back in the garden—finally.