Alpine Garden Society

Ulster Group

Plant of the Month, September 2011
Lilium duchartrei Franchet- by David Ledsham
Lilium duchartrei Franchet - Reginald Farrer called it his 'Marble Martagon Lily', declaring that its 'cold bone white turkscaps have a glacial beauty' - as indeed they have. This latter quote is taken from the highly erudite (and very entertaining) catalogues of the late Jim Archibald from whom I obtained my seed.  Jim Archibald, in his turn, had obtained his material from a Peter Cox expedition.  
The lily can be found in South West China,in Gansu,Hubei,  and in Tibet, usually growing at an altitude of 1500-3500 m. in damp places and in light shade. It can grow to a height of 150 cm, occasionally growing outwards before it grows upwards. In my experience it is lightly scented, certainly not as heavily scented as L.sargentiae and its relatives. 
It is also stoloniferous, growing from a small white/grey bulb and finally emerging at some distance from its initial point of departure. Consequently in time the plant is reputed to colonise a considerable area. 
Despite the fact that this part of China is recognised as a centre of distribution for the genus Lilium, which inevitably leads to the presence of a number of closely related species, L.duchartrei remains quite distinct (so far at least!), its nearest relative being L.lankongense which as far as I can discover is decidedly pinkish when compared with the pristine whiteness of L.duchartrei.  
I find growing Lilies from seed quite challenging, to say the least, and I often resort to planting bulbs when they are still quite small rather than face emptying pots to find that they have disappeared  over Winter. However if the plant succeeds it means that it is initially virus-free and what's more that first flowering always provides a moment to savour.