The Lily Tree (TM)!


You can read Tony’s entire piece here–and it’s well worth reading–but the gist of it is that trademarks are intended to be used to designate a brand, not the name of an individual item.  Avent uses Tylenol as an example.  That’s a trademarked brand, not a specific product.  Under that brand, a variety of individual products are sold, like Tylenol Pain Reliever. Tylenol Pain Reliever can be a patented product, subject to US and/or international patent law, but it’s not a trademark.  The trademark refers to the brand "Tylenol."

Got it?  OK, now remember that we’re not talking about patents.  New plant varieties can be patented, and breeders can make money on those patents.  A patented plant must be somehow new or unique.   A trademark, on the other hand, is simply a way of establishing a brand to indicate the source of the goods.

Here’s how Tony applies this to horticulture, reminding readers that the naming of plants is governed by the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants, which sets out guidelines for Latin names and cultivar names:

The current improper use of trademarks in the horticultural
industry had its origin more than a half century ago.  The worst culprits,
in the early years, were the rose and bedding plant industry.  The rose
industry seems to have been the first to use nonsensical, non-conforming
names for plant cultivars, while the bedding plant industry completely
thumbed its nose at the Code by not even bothering to come up with
any cultivar names for most of their introductions…

A properly used trademark would be one such as Star® Roses,
which is used to market a large group of roses under a single umbrella
trademark.  This trademark would have remained valid if they had not
then began using their trademark to also market individual cultivars
such as Rosa ‘Wezaprt’ as Bronze Star™ Rose and Rosa ‘Wezlavn’
as Silver Star® Rose…. 

This use of trademarks as secondary "pseudo-cultivar" names for
a particular plants violates both the spirit of the Nomenclature Code, as
well as US trademark law…

Avent concludes by calling upon trade associations, retailers, and garden writers to "identify plants by their one and only
cultivar name, and hopefully at the same time embarrass those who
persist in making up stupid nonsensical names for good plants and
illegally using trademarks to deceive the public."

Go, Tony!  Meanwhile, I’m not ordering anything called a Lily Tree, even if I could lean a bicycle up against it.



  1. Also the lady in the picture looks suspiciously short (the use of undersized models to give a false impression of a plants’ size, girth, flowers, fruits etc being one of my quirkiest but favourite catalogue peeves). I’m fairly sure I have a picture of my 4’11” mother next to some Stargazer and Casablanca flower spikes some but I wouldn’t push them as trees.

  2. Yeah but … where do I park my bike in the spring before the “tree” comes back up?

    This advertising garbage reminds me of something a professor at Iowa State University once told me: “The most prevalent thing in horticulture is misinformation.” — Sadly true.


  3. I followed your link, Amy, and the Boogie Woogie Lily Tree that Breck’s depicts in close-up is clearly a different variety than the one in the “three-year-old lily tree” photo. So are all Orienpet lilies “trees” according to Brecks?

    The real test of the “tree” quality is whether the lily needs staking. I have several lily varieties in my yard that top seven feet. But without some artfully placed bamboo, these would be lily ground covers.

  4. My husband Alan is just six feet tall, and in the picture in my post below, he is face to face with a Silk Road orienpet. It is staked, as you can also see.

    I would never buy anything from Brecks. Ever. They have no business calling hybrid lilium trees. What a bunch of jerks.

  5. If Breck’s would only sell something interesting (like Cardiocrinum giganteum), then they wouldn’t have to invent such stupid names and alienate any customers who know how to read.

  6. Yeah but can you imagine the sort of person who buys from that catalogue going for something that takes seven(ish?) years from seed to flower and then dies?

  7. I have purchased the Lily Tree’s from Brecks. I have 4 that are in their second year and 12 that are in the first year.
    The 4 in the 2nd year range from 5’9 to 4’11 with 10 to 14 bulbs each on the tallest and 8 bulbs on the shortest. The stalks are 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter. I live in Kansas. The wind sucks. I feared they couldn’t survive the frequent wind storms. No problem. Huge blooms. Tall sturdy plant with no staking. (Yes in the first year the blooms are huge and the plant is short. They wilt and droop if not staked. Second year different story. Almost 6 foot tall lily’s are an eye catcher. I really dont care what they call them. Yes, maybe they aren’t a tree but I dont care. They look incredible in my landscaping.

  8. Just bought a couple of these on ebay and I’m looking forward to them coming up between my iris and day lilies.

    I never really thought about how calling this a Lily “Tree” might be such a crime, but maybe I just have better things to do with my time. I suppose they have called it something more descrptive though less colorful.

    Whatever they are called I will be delighted if they come up through my Day Lillies and Iris and have wonderful bright flowers on them.

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