It Must be Crinum Time Again!
The building can fall or old vehicles can rust but the
Crinum will survive and thrive!
This milk-and-wine Crinum is thriving in an abandoned
site in Atascosa County.
The saying: "When it rains, it pours!" can definitely
be applied to the subject matter of questions received by PLANTanswers.com
This has been the case with questions about Crinum lilies for
several months now. It started with Sherry in Charlotte, North
Carolina, wanting to know if Crinum lilies can be grown in Charlotte
which is in growing zone 7.
I answered: "You are lucky because I just happened to read
an article about Crinum lilies on pp. 66--68 in the August Southern
Living Magazine which quotes Greg Grant as saying: "About
the only factor limiting Crinums is cold. Most hybrids do just
fine from the Middle South on down. In the Upper South, stick
with hardy Crinum (Crinum bulbispermum), long-neck Crinum (C.
moorei), and selections of C. x powellii. Mulching them in late
fall provides extra insurance." I don't know whether Greg
considers Charlotte, North Carolina "Upper South" or
"Middle South"--maybe he will define these terms for
us. You might want to get that copy of the August edition of Southern
Living Magazine and read about the other Crinums in the article.
Enjoy." I e-mailed Greg Grant who serves as an expert for
PLANTanswers and is also the creator of Arcadia Archives at: http://www.plantanswers.com/arcadia_archives.htm
I thought I had solved the problem but then Melissa from Bloomington,
Illinois, writes to see if Crinums will they grow in zone 5a?
Melissa writes: "My guess is the answer to the question of
Crinums growing in zone 5a is no but it never hurts to ask. I
live in 5a and on a creek. I am looking for a hardy variety flower
for the hillside next to the creek. I saw an article on Crinums
and was intrigued. Bulbispernum sounds nice ffor the purpose but
I suspect it will be too cold. I may have to reserve my Crinum
curiosity to a nice gift for my mother-in-law in Tampa."
I e-mailed Greg: "I know you answered this for Charleston,
South Carolina, but I think Illinois is a bit too cold!"
He answered: "Yep, too cold. Crinum bulbispermum is the most
cold hardy but that's pushing it. Plants would have to be in a
pot or dug each winter and stored." -Greg Grant
I had "dodged another Crinum "bullet" but the
barrage was not over---- Mary Anne of Mesa, Arizona writes: "Can
the Crinum Lily be grown in the heat of full sun in Mesa, Arizona,
through temperatures of between 100 and 115 degrees F. for weeks
at a time? Marilyn in Dallas, Texas, writes: "Would Crinums
do good in Dallas? If so would all of them or would I need a special
kind? Then, Anne in Wichita, Kansas, writes: I just ran across
this beautiful and hardy bulb on the Internet. I live in zone
6 and want to know if they would be hardy in my zone. If one species
would be better than another in my area, could you recommend it?"
Then, Diane in Connecticut writes: "Can I grow these here
in CT or are they just for the South?"
I thought we had handled all of the where-to-grow Crinum questions
and then we began to receive the how-to-grow questions such as
the one from Mary Lou in Cheraw, South Carolina. She wanted to
know: "What kind of food and area should a Crinum be. I have
two different kinds but they don't bloom like they once did when
I planted them though they are multiplying every year. "
Greg Grant comes through for us again, writing: "Though Crinums
don't require much food to survive, they thrive with moisture
and fertilizer (organic or chemical). They HAVE to have full sun
to bloom however. Some cultivars bloom all the time (Cecil Houdyshel),
some heavy during a certain period (Ellen Bosanquet), and some
hardly at all (J.C. Harvey). Some mutliply quickly (Mrs. James
Hendry) and some hardly at all (Sangria). Best to treat them like
cannas, sun, food, and regular moisture." -Greg Grant
The last inquiry we had drove me over the edge. Helene in Sweden
writes: "Hello! I would like to find out more about the Crinum
genus and some history... Thank you for an answer." THAT
DID IT!!! Greg Grant graciously furnished the following write-up:
Traipse through any old Texas cemetery or yard and you are almost
assured of running across one of the most enduring and cherished
of southern bulbs, the Crinum lily. Though they somewhat resemble
them, Crinums aren't actually lilies or even related to them.
Like oxblood "lilies", Aztec "lilies", St.
Joseph's "lilies", rain "lilies", and spider
"lilies", they are in the amaryllis family instead.
The amaryllis family is well known for a bunch of tough hombres
The genus Crinum includes about 130 species occurring in warm
tropical regions of the world, especially Africa and Asia. This
genetic heritage makes widespread cultivation only possible in
zones 7-10, as they aren't cold hardy in northern climates. This
also makes them supremely adapted to hot, muggy southern conditions.
Crinums (pronounced "CRY-nums") are to the South what
peonies are to the north, big bold perennials with wonderful flowers
for cutting. The often fragrant, lily-like flowers occur in clusters
on stalks around three feet tall and can be white, pink, or striped
(milk and wine lilies).
Crinums have big bold foliage that often cascades to the ground
in lush mounds. Haughty gardeners often unduly complain about
the mounds of rotund leaves. If you ask me, it's like complaining
about how big your momma is. With all that Crinums and mommas
have done, we should learn to shut our mouths! Crinums are what
they are and they don't really care whether you like their foliage
or not. They're a lot like Texas*big and brash, take it or leave
it. If their foliage gets marred by insects, it is acceptable
to occasionally cut it all off so that it may be replaced with
new healthy foliage. It's also a good time to toss a bit of fertilizer
around them. This "crew cutting" is a rare acceptance
for bulbs so don't over practice it if the foliage is generally
Although Crinums are extremely drought tolerant and forgiving,
they perform best with full sun and regular moisture. They are
unique in that most of them hail from parts of the globe that
are lakes part of they year and deserts others. This gives them
the unique ability to handle just about anything Texas weather
can dish out. I believe it was my mentor, William C. Welch, who
stated "No Crinum has ever died", and he may just be
right. If you happen to kill one, I certainly wouldn't advertise
Crinums produce huge water and food storing bulbs below the
ground, which makes digging old clumps a major chore. The good
news is that they never need dividing unless you want to propagate
more. If so, trench around the entire clump, severing all the
roots, with a sturdy sharp shooter before trying to pry it from
the ground. Once out of the soil, use a hose and nozzle to remove
the water from the roots before dividing the individual bulbs.
Some Crinums multiply quickly and others hardly at all. You can
tell how many bulbs there will be by the number of necks protruding
from the ground. As Crinums have year round roots it is best to
replant them immediately and not let them dry out. It generally
takes them about a year to settle back in.
To be quite honest, I've never met a Crinum I didn't like. They
range in size from small to large, with foliage from upright to
cascading. Flowers can be trumpet or spider-like and can smell
like vanilla or perfume. Dr. Welch likes the more subdued colors
while I've always lusted after the gaudily striped milk and wine
types. As you may know, I like my flowers a little on the trashy
side. Here are a just a few of the many wonderful Crinums to consider
for your Texas garden.
Crinum bulbispermum: This native of South Africa is often found
naturalized in Central Texas ditches. It has gray green foliage
in fountain-like mounds and trumpet type flowers, ranging from
white to pink and striped. It isn't the prettiest Crinum, but
it is the earliest blooming, toughest, and most cold hardy. It
is the parent of most of the good garden hybrids.
Crinum x digweedii 'Royal White': This old fashioned favorite
has somewhat spidery white blooms with pale pink stripes. It is
one of the last to bloom, generally late summer and fall. It also
goes by the name of "Nassau lily". My Granny Ruth had
this one in her yard.
Crinum x herbertii (milk and wine lilies): Many old fashioned
hybrids are included here with fragrant, white, trumpet type flowers
striped with some relation of red, pink, or purple. My Grandmother
Emanis had these next to the front porch, near the swing. The
dark, wide striped, 'Carol Abbott' is one of many fine selections.
Crinum x powellii 'Album': This cold hardy selection with pure
white flowers is often available (along with her pink sister)
through summer Dutch bulb catalogs. It provides beautiful cut
flowers for church services, funerals, or weddings.
Crinum x 'Bradley': This cultivar from Australia has beautiful
tall flower spikes topped with dark pink flowers above lush green
Crinum x Ellen Bosanquet: Although the flowers are actually dark
pink, this is often referred to as a "red" flowered
Crinum. It's quite common all over the South and may actually
prefer a touch of shade during the heat of summer. My Grandmother
Emanis liked this one best.
Crinum x 'Mrs. James Hendry': This Florida introduction by the
late, great, southern horticulturist, Henry Nehrling, produces
wonderfully fragrant white flowers flushed with pastel pink in
mid summer. Dr. Welch is in love with this gal! Don' t tell Diane.
For more information on Crinums see:
Garden Bulbs for the South by Scott Odgen (1994, Taylor Publishing)
Bulbs for Warm Climates by Thad Howard (2001, University of Texas
Perennial Garden Color by William C. Welch (1989, Taylor Publishing)
The Southern Heirloom Garden by William C. Welch and Greg Grant
(1995, Taylor Publishing)
Plant Delights Nursery
9241 Sauls Road
Raleigh, NC 27603
Phone: (919) 772-4794
Old House Gardens
536 Third St.
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103-4957
147-A Seewald Road
Boerne, Texas 78006
I noticed the last address was a local fellow, Steve Lowe, so
I requested that Steve also provide some Crinum information. He
sent me the following article about PERENNIAL BULBS FOR CENTRAL
TEXAS. Steve Lowe is Horticulturist for the San Antonio Botanical
Garden and worked for the San Antonio Zoo as horticulturist for
over 20 years. Steve writes:
My mailbox sometimes seems to be more of a trash receptacle than
a mailbox. For every item I request, there are always three times
as many junk fliers and catalogs, particularly the bulb catalogs.
I'm always amazed at the variety of tulips, narcissus, hyacinths
and other Dutch-grown bulbs and how affordable they are. In most
cases these bulbs require consistently cool conditions and fertile
soil to perform as advertised. With few exceptions one must consider
them as annuals (at best). Our wildly variable weather usually
disrupts their cultural needs, and heavy soils and summer's heat
stunts or kills most outright.
There are many bulbs that thrive in Central Texas gardens, but
few show up in glossy Dutch catalogs. Some are natives, other
time-tested introductions, and even some relatively new entries.
Look for some of the following in old neighborhoods and from specialty
growers in your area:
Allium neopolitanum. One of the showiest of the onions, blooming
as early as late February, with bright white flower clusters.
Easily naturalized in lawns and beds but never 'weedy.'
Tulipa clusiana. Sometimes listed as "Cynthia" or "Candy
Tulip." Delicate red and creamy white (sometimes yellow)
petals, to about ten inches in height. Requires good drainage,
Muscari neglectum. "Grape hyacinth." Diminutive, chive-like
foliage with inky blue spikes six to eight inches high. Form mat-like
Leucojum aestivum. "Snowflakes." One of the hardiest
of spring bulbs. White, drooping, bell-shaped clusters of flowers.
Foliage is lush during cool weather, fading in late spring.
Oxalis crassipes. "Wood Sorrel." Another early bloomer,
these form tidy mounds with shamrock-like foliage. Brilliant pink
clusters sometimes entirely cover the foliage. Often repeats in
Lycoris radiate. "Guernsey Lily." Although the common
name leads to some confusion, the red fall "spider"
lily is well-known throughout the South. The local strain of Lycoris
produces 12 - 13" stems topped with delicate red, spidery
flowers before sending up dark green strap-like leaves. Readily
Rhodophiala bifida. "Oxblood Lily." A South American
import that has similar growth habits as Lycoris. Deep red, two
to four flowers emerge in late August and September. Older paintings
may carpet whole lots and abandoned homesteads. Foliage growth
follows blooming and ceases as spring arrives.
Zephyranthes and Habranthus. These summer growing bulbs are collectively
known as "Rain Lilies." Native species include the "Prairie
Lily" (Zephyranthes drummondii) and the smaller Z. chlorosolen.
Both are white flowered. The prairie lily blooms early (March
- June) and considerably larger, up to one foot tall. The smaller
species tends to spread quickly from seed and can infest lawns.
With some cold protection, Z. grandiflora produces vibrant pink
flowers that blend well in borders with companions like Monkey
grass or Liriope.
Habranthus is a related genus that includes our local "Copper
Lilies" (H. tubispathus v. texensis). After a good rain in
late August, you'll find "coppers " in scattered locations
throughout Central Texas, but you'll have to look closely as they
tend to blend in with drought-cured grasses.
Most gardeners readily recognize and value the Iris as a sturdy
complement of the spring landscape. For ease of culture and reliability,
the following prove to be the best bets:
Iris albicans. Several color forms.
Iris germanica. "German Bearded iris."
Spuria irises. Various hybrids in a wide range of colors.
With a little more attention (primarily additional watering),
the Louisiana Irises offer an astonishing menu of colors and sizes.
Additional breeding ventures are providing new plants yearly.
Bletella striata. "Ground Orchid." Yes, this is a true
orchid, best planted as an under story subject as summer sun will
scald its handsome, pleated foliage. Overhead shade will also
protect its early purple blooms (as early as February). Also,
comes in white that is, perhaps, slightly less vigorous.
Polianthes tuberose. "Tuberose." With good drainage
and ample mulching, these Mexican exotics are quite rewarding
in the middle border or in mass. Sun-loving, they are certainly
prized for their tall sprays of pearly white, tubular flowers.
Tuberose fragrance is a powerful combination of spicy-sweetness.
Sprekelia formosissima. "Aztec Lily." From a cluster
of unremarkable, lime green leaves, the flower spike of this amaryllis
kin is intriguing. When it opens, the sheen and crimson brilliance
are startling. Sprekelia need ample sun and good drainage, making
them good choices for features such as rock gardens.
Narcissus. "Daffodils." One of the oldest groups of
cultivated bulbs and one that dominates many catalogs. Yellows
and whites are the main theme with some oranges and pinks thrown
in. Good drainage without withholding moisture is essential to
growing a Narcissus. Another key is selecting strains that bloom
early, as "bud blast' is common on suddenly warm days. Allowing
the post-flowering foliage to dry is important to ensure flowering
Disregarding botanical distinctions and detailed descriptions
(available in most catalogs), the following Narcissus have been
successfully grown in Central Texas:
N. jonquilla x odorus "Campernelle"
N. jonquilla x "Trevithian"
N. cyclaminius "Peeping Tom"
N. tazetta "Papyraceus"
N. tazetta "Earlicheer"
N. tazetta "Grand Primo"
N. x "Carlton"
N. x "Sir Watkin"
N. x "Ice Follies"
N. x "Fortune"
Liliums. "True Lilies." The genus Lilium includes eighty
to ninety different plants. However only very few are fool-proof
in our gardens.
The plant we regard as the "Easter Lily" is the fragrant
Lilium longiflorum. Although slightly tender for Central Texas,
areas closer to the coast or points south may offer enough cold
protection for this lily. In cooler areas the "Easter Lily"
of choice is L. candidum or the "Madonna Lily." These
plants require some degree of lime and little else. In April or
early May they exhibit several porcelain white, fragrant blossoms
about two feet above tidy tufts of foliage.
By far the easiest of lilies for our area are the Aurelian hybrids.
Overhead shade is essential for Aurelians as our intense sun will
bleach or burn the tops. Most reach considerable heights (up to
7 feet!) and may need staking support. Many colors are available
but our heat tends to diminish color intensity on most.
"Glorious Lily," another member of the Liliaceae worth
of garden space acts more like a vine. Gloriosa lily (Gloriosa
rothschidiana) is easily accommodated in average soil but suffers
in the hottest sites.
Tubers should be planted near a supporting device (post, tree,
etc.) to allow the vine's tendrils to climb to blooming height
of 4 - 6 feet. The flowers are spectacular, downward-facing red
and yellow "comets" with outward flaring stamens. The
effect is like an exploding star. Ample mulching ensures against
Hippeastrum. "Amaryllis," Amaryllis are another prominent
feature of Dutch offerings. With few exceptions, modern hybrids
were bred for flower size only. Cold hardiness and disease resistance
qualities were mostly ignored. Consequently, few make the grade
as garden worthy for our area.
The "Red Easter Lily" of Central Texas is A. x johnsonii
, an early hybrid introduced in our area with the first wave of
settlement. Their glossy bronze, early foliage produces two foot
scapes topped with four to six scarlet trumpets with white-starred
throats. Blooming period in our area is usually mid-April.
Amaryllis aulicum, a little known species from Brazil, is generally
regarded as a pot plant due to its December flowering habit. However,
hybrids of this robust plant can be choice garden subjects because
of its resistance to mosaic virus, the bane of all amaryllids.
One newer hybrid of note is the summer flowering A. x "San
Antonio Rose." A tidy growing plant of superior vigor, "the
Rose" forms tight colonies of smallish bulbs with dark green,
reddish edge foliage. Twin flowers are flaring with ruffled, rose-red
petals accented by greenish-yellow throat. As with any newer entry,
cold-hardiness is unknown but with some sheltering, this plant
offers some promise.
Similar potential is exhibited by a related species A. papilio
, the "Butterfly Amaryllis." The compressed, wing-like
petals of this species combine the striking play of rich brownish-maroon
against the chartreuse background.
All Amaryllis need good drainage, yearly soil enrichment and
partial protection from afternoon sun and cold winds.
Hymenocallis. "Spider Lilies." These bulbs lend a very
tropical look to beds and pots with lush, strap-shaped foliage
and delicate white petals.
Several species are native to the United States but are scarce
in trade sources. One of the showiest spider lilies is one lacking
a true botanical name. It is best known as Hymenocallis "Tropical
Giant" and is found throughout the Deep South. Established
plantings will form luxurious mounds of lime green, three foot
tall leaves bearing scapes of fragrant flowers in early summer.
This plant is most content when set with manure and well watered.
In areas north of Austin, winter mulching will benefit this plant.
Crinum. "Cemetery Lilies." This group is the trademark
planting of old settlements throughout the South. Although sometimes
referred to as "swamp lilies." Most require only moderate
amounts of moisture to thrive. Many relish our heavy soils and
are indifferent to high soil alkalinity. With mulch and Southern
exposure, most are reasonably hardy into Zone 7.
One type is referred to as "Milk and Wine" lilies as
their creamy petals exhibit varying pink to rose striped keels.
Most are hybrids of questionable pedigrees but garden worthy nonetheless.
Established plantings may reach 3 feet in height and form colonies
4 feet or more across. Like most Crinums, these are most bloom-responsive
after spring and summer rains.
Frequently, one notes large clumps of strap-like foliage as foundation
plantings or in old graveyards. These are the most common Crinum
in our region. Powell's lily (Crinum x powellii) is a robust hybrid
from the late 1800's. A choice white form is also available, but
most are fleshy pink.
Many southern road swales are home to the South African species,
C. Bulbispermum. Most are pink flowered but can vary from white
to near red. All have characteristic grayish to blue-green, arching
foliage. One form that blooms relatively early is "Sacramento."
Hybridizers have created a wealth of newer hybrid Crinum and
many are quite at home in Central Texas:
"Alamo Village" Old "found" variety, dwarfish
with pale lavender blossoms. Spicy fragrance.
"Bradley." Moderate sized with dark green, narrow foliage.
Fluorescent, dark pink flowers with white "eye zone."
"Ellen Bosanquet." Broad, lush crepey foliage to 4
feet. Dark, wine red flowers.
"Jubilee" Newer hybrid, mauve petals with a delicious
scent. Reblooms readily.
"Mrs. James Hendry." Compact with dark green, channeled
leaves. Spicy scented white petals with lavender overtones.
"Stars and Stripes". Popular, striped clumping variety.
"Summer Noctourne". Tidy plant sporting flared, lavender-flushed
white flowers. Easily grown.
"Walter Flory." Uncommon bi-colored, wine on light pink
with green tips.
Always keep in mind the cemetery lilies are generally very long-lived
and difficult to dig after establishing, so initial placement
may require some careful thought.
As once can see, there are many hardy bulbs that can be grown
in Central Texas. Some can be found in those Dutch catalogs, while
many more can be found in old neighborhoods and from local specialists.
. . like the lady down the road with the "Yard Eggs For Sale"
GREG GRANT'S LIST OF SUMMER BULBS
Summer Bulbs: Grow and bloom during the summer and go dormant
during the winter due to cold temperatures. Most are tropical
in origin. They respond well to irrigation and fertilizer.
Some summer bulbs for Texas:
Cannas (Canna x generalis)
Butterfly Ginger (Hedychium coronarium)
Crinum Lily (Crinum sp. and hybrids)
Montbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmiaflora)
Spider Lily (Hymenocallis)
Blackberry Lily (Belamcanda chinensis)
Tiger Lily (Lilium x lancifolium)
Philippine/Formosa Lily (Lilium formosanum)
Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva and hybrids)
Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea)
Bulbs 101 by (Greg Grant)
Bulb: A herbaceous plant with a fleshy underground storage organ
made up of modified leaves. Includes both annual and perennial
types. Examples: daffodils, amaryllis, and lilies. Often loosely
includes other types of storage organs including tubers (caladiums),
corms (gladiolus), rhizomes (iris), tuberous roots (daylilies),
Annual bulb: A bulbous plant that is only useful for one season
(doesn't reliably return and bloom each year). Examples: tulips,
Dutch hyacinths, and caladiums.
Short lived bulb: A bulbous plant that only performs well for
a few years and gradually declines. Examples: large flowered daffodils,
most true lilies, and most gladiolus.
Spring bulb: Bulbs that bloom in late winter or early spring.
Mos t of these grow foliage during the winter and spring and go
dormant in the summer. Examples: jonquils, snowflakes, and narcissus.
Summer bulb: Bulbs that grow and bloom during the late spring
and summer. Most are tropical in origin, go dormant during the
winter, and are somewhat tender and grown primarily outdoors only
in the South. Examples: Crinums, hymenocallis, and cannas.
Fall bulbs: Bulbs that bloom in late summer and fall after a
summer drought induced dormancy. They normally bloom without foliage
and grow foliage during the fall and winter. Examples: spider
lily (Lycoris), oxblood lily, and rain lilies.
Naturalize: When bulbs multiply and spread on their own and seemingly
Perennialize: When bulbs return each year as perennials but may
or may not naturalize.
Characteristics of bulbs: Easy, low maintenance, drought tolerant,
light feeders, more expensive, long lived, mostly propagated by
Soil requirements: Not particular. Good drainage is best for
most. Annual types require "annual soil mix."