Regal lily © Andrew McRobb/RBG Kew

Regal lily

Regal lily in Chinese script

Lilium regale

The heady scent of this lily perfumes the air, especially at night. In China, lilies symbolise harmony and unity, and are often given as a wedding gift. The first bulbs were brought to Britain by Ernest Henry Wilson in 1903.

During the 1800s, European plant explorers tramped through the world’s landscapes looking for ‘new’ species to take home. Wilson was one of the most famous – he discovered so many plants in China that he was known as ‘Chinese Wilson’.

In one trip to collect the regal lily, Wilson was caught in an avalanche that almost cost him his life. He set his crushed leg with a camera tripod, and from then on walked with what he called his ‘lily limp’.

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E.H Wilson (1876-1930) covered thousands of miles during his six plant collecting expeditions to China. © RBG KewSilk fan dated 1875 showing a lily, symbol of harmony and friendship.

Left: E. H. Wilson (1876-1930) covered thousands of miles during his six plant collecting expeditions to China.

Right: Silk fan dated 1875 showing a lily, symbol of harmony and friendship.

Top left: © Andrew McRobb/RBG Kew
Bottom left: © RBG Kew