My Messinia

Lily on Fire

These days the white lilies of the sandy dunes are shredding their long and delicate petals forming large capsule-like fruits…which means that summer slowly comes to an end.otvDSC_0021otv The official name of the flower is Pancratium maritimum but it has many vernacular names: sand daffodil, sea daffodil, sand lily, sea lily and lily of St. Nicholas(St Nicholas who is the patron of sailors) and in Greek κρινάκι της άμμου, ασφόδελος της θάλασσας, κρινάκι του Αγίου Νικολάου and νάρκισσος της θάλασσαςThe specific epithet maritimum from Latin means “of the sea” and “pancratium” comes from the Greek παν + κραταιός meaning all strength, perhaps referring to the supposed tonic properties of the plant (as described by Dioscorides and Theophrastus), or to the strength a plant must have to tolerate the extreme climate of the hot and dry summer beach. Indeed their habitat is the maritime sands  in the immediate vicinity of the sea. This environment is characterized by direct exposure to the sun and the sea winds and to continuous sprays of salt water droplets carried by the wind.DSC_0468otvDSC_0497cotvDSC_0392otvThe plant flowers during the hottest months of summer, from late July until the beginning of October with large. It emerges from scorching sand…from fire…

Its flowers elegant and fragile, of pure white with a funnel-shaped crown. It can thrive in the extreme conditions because its large bulb (about 5 – 7cm across) is buried deep underground and because it grows in sand and it is not that difficult for its shoots to make their way up through half a meter of loose coastal sands.

It looks and it smells simply beautiful. The flowers open in the afternoon and exude heady scent which intensifies its fragrance at dusk attracting the hawk moth for pollination. DSC_0016otvThe leaves appear at the end of autumn and look like long ribbons and by the time of flowering they are withered and frequently disappear by sun and winds before the flowers emerge from the sand. These leaves are often twisted in a spiral shape.DSC_0033otvDSC_0046otv



DSC_0028otvIts fruit is a large 3-valved capsule that at maturity opens at the sides of the 3 carpels, exposing the 10 to 40 very black seeds. These seeds are very light, of irregular shape and look like pieces of charcoal, quite opposite to the flowers. They fall out of the opened capsule into the sand and are dispersed by the wind and taken by sea to other magical shores of the Mediterranean.

DSC_0138otv“Pancratium maritimum” along with all other lilies was a sacred flower for the Minoans. The few frescos which have survived from that era, at the Knossos Palace in Crete and settlement of Akrotiri in Santorini, have been adorned with its extraordinary flowers… DSC_0551otv


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