Friday 24 January 2020

Stately crinum lily is the picture of true elegance

Crinum lily
Crinum lily

Gerry Daly

The beautiful crinum lily is in flower these days, just the start of its long flowering season that runs from early August to late September. No matter how many times over the years that you again spot this plant anew, coming into flower, it is always a breath-catching sight.

The sheer size of the flower and its pristine, waxy beauty are always impressive. The arching trumpets look exotic and it is native to South Africa, where it is called, in English, the river lily or the veld lily, or swamp lily. None of these names has any currency in this country, where it is simply known as crinum or crinum lily.

As flower bulbs go, this is outsized in all its parts. The flowers are large, each trumpet fully 10 centimetres across, and often they are carried in a group of as many as 20 flowers, opening in succession and spreading flowering over a period of weeks.

The trumpets are sweetly fragrant, pure white or a very delicate light purple-pink. Either colour is very pretty; the pink contrasts with autumn colour, while the pure white is outstandingly fresh and new at this time of year.

The flowers are carried at top of sturdy stems that are often well over one metre tall, rounded and thick as a man's thumb. The flower stems emerge from the rosette of wide strappy leaves in a matter of a few days. They have so much vigour because they arise from a very large bulb, as big as the largest onion you can buy or grow. This flower is always best as a clump, and this happens eventually, the bulbs splitting naturally each year.

Long-established clumps are sometimes seen in old gardens, and it would appear to be a resilient plant that lasts many decades. Like many South African native plants, crinum is not completely hardy, though it survived the bad winters on the eastern side of the country. It would not be a big task to cover the tall necks of the large bulbs during a very frosty spell. The bulbs push up as much as half-way out of the ground, the neck thickly clad with many layers of papery skins.

For such a beautiful flower, its bulbs are rarely seen for sale in garden centres, because these big bulbs are slow to increase in numbers. If you get hold of a bulb or two, choose a place to plant it where the splendid flowers will be seen to be enjoyed for many years to come, near a doorway or garden gate, or close to a sunny wall where it seems to flower more prolifically.

Sunday Independent

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