It's Crinum Time Again
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 l ittle 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 cutflowers
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
Greg Grant is co-author of Home Landscaping-Texas and The Southern
Heirloom Garden. He is also the creator of Arcadia Archives at:
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."
Some long lived bulbs for East Texas
Grand Primo narcissus
Spring star flower
St. Joseph's lily (amaryllis)
white cemetery (bearded/German) iris