It's Easter Lilies' Time To Bloom

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It's go-time in the Easter lily business. One greenhouse in New Jersey is making sure the flower named after the holiday makes it to the altar on time.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Easter lilies are symbols of resurrection and renewal. But if it were up to the flowers, Easter would be celebrated in mid-summer. From member station WBGO in Newark, Monica Miller reports on the difficult business of getting Easter lilies to bloom on command.

MONICA MILLER: Leanne Eelman and her colleagues at Alexander Hay Greenhouses in North Haledon, New Jersey, are running out of time. They're working 80-hour weeks taking orders for Easter Sunday and making deliveries across New Jersey, New York, and parts of Connecticut. The young woman in work boots, with a squawking walkie-talkie clipped to her back pocket, says Easter lilies make up the bulk of their growing season. And getting the white, trumpet-shaped flowers to bloom on cue is crucial.

Ms. LEANNE EELMAN (Easter Lily Grower): If it's not out of here by this Sunday, you're going to be stuck with it. So you have to get as many sales as possible, and just keep loading the trucks and shipping the stuff out.

MILLER: These particular Easter lilies began their lives in an old dairy farm converted into a bulb distribution company, about an hour away.

Mr. DICK DEN BREEJEN (President, Ednie Flower Bulb): Here's where we would program lilies, in here - actually, right now they're stored frozen.

MILLER: Dick�Den Breejen is president of�the Ednie Flower Bulbs, and an expert on how to get the bulbs to bloom on time. He stores thousands of them in old cow stalls that have been converted into large refrigerators. Easter can be tricky for farmers because the dates shift from year to year.

Mr. DEN BREEJEN: See, Christmas, Valentine, those are all days which are set dates. And a lot of people in the industry wish that Easter would be a set date, too.

MILLER: Which is why Den Breejen has traveled more than 40,000 miles across North America since January, helping greenhouses nurse their Easter lilies to life. The bulb expert says that the secret is temperature. He draws up how-to instructions for the farmers, and schedules starting in mid-October that delicately balance temperatures day and night.

Mr. DEN BREEJEN: I mean, you can produce screws. You can produce ashtrays. They're all the same. But when you produce a flower, there's never one flower the same. They're always different. You know, it's an amazing part of creation that flowers are what they are.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

MILLER: Back at Alexander Hay Greenhouses, Leanne Elman is cranking up the heat to the 80s as the final hour approaches to get the tight lilies to open up. She and her family have one more thing to do.

Ms. ELMAN: We always go Saturday afternoon, after all is said and done here at the greenhouses, and we decorate our own church. And that's when we know that Easter's over. And you go to church on Sunday to celebrate and you walk in, and the altar just looks beautiful.

MILLER: For NPR News, I'm Monica Miller in New Jersey.

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