Today on the Land Use Trail: Curry County Lily Fields

We’re continuing our tour of our Land Use Trail. Today, April 17: The lily fields of Curry County, where much of the nation's supply of a unique but valuable crop is grown.

About: This small stretch of coastline--including parts of Del Norte County, California--is responsible for providing nearly all Easter lilies to Canada and the entire United States. Nearly 13 million bulbs are grown in a given year, about 95% of the nation's crop. This vital economic contribution was protected in 1986 when the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed that urban uses are not allowed in rural areas and protected 4,000 acres of lily fields and estuary land. Today, the industry provides over $7 million of important revenue to local counties.

Key Fact: The lilies may matter most in March and April, but their journey from field to Easter celebrations begins years earlier. In June and July, local fields are covered with rows of blooming lilies.It's not actually the lilies that local growers sell and ship; it's the bulbs they're after. Bulbs can take three to four years to reach maturity for harvest, and even then must be very carefully handled.  In the fall, workers harvest the bulbs and ship them to commercial greenhouses across the country where they are kept under controlled conditions so they bloom in time for Easter. Lilies are the fourth largest crop in the U.S. potted plant market.

Another Cool Fact: Lily bulb cultivation began in Oregon in 1919 when a returning World War I soldier and USDA employee named Louis Houghton brought a suitcase of bulbs tot he area. Before World War II, Japan dominated global production of bulbs, but with the supply cut off during the war, growers ramped up production considerably up and down the Pacific coast. Oregon and extreme Northern California emerged as the new Lily Capital of the World because of the very specific climatic conditions the sensitive plants demand.


Most of the lily bulb growing today is handled by a small number of growers. The heart of the region is Brookings, known for its mild climate; it's often 70 degrees in January or January in this area called the "Banana Belt of Oregon." Drive Highway 101 in the summertime between Brookings and Crescent City, California, to see the lilies in full bloom.

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