By Elisabeth Castro
Crinums are considered heirloom plants in the South. They are not native to the U.S. although, there is one crinum native to coastal Texas, the Southern Swamp Lily, Crinum americanum.
Most of the species (there are at least 100 species accounted for), are native to tropical Africa, and the warm regions of Asia and Australia. One of the earlier species from South Africa that made its way to the Deep South is the Oranjerivierlelie, “Orange River Lily”, Crinum bulbispermum which can still be found in abandoned homesteads, or as pass along plants. It is easily identified by its greyish green foliage and is perhaps the hardiest of all crinums. On the tall 3-4 ft scapes at least four to six blooms open from fat buds which soon hang down in bell shaped flowers. Colors of the blooms range from light pink, pink striped to deep red.
The Creole Lily, Crinum scabrum, is more frost tender than C. bulbispermum and is distinguishable by its bright green foliage. It has similar sized scapes with bell shaped white flowers and red stripes down the middle.
The Sabie Crinum, crinum macowanii, has tulip shaped flowers with petals that curve out at the tips. It is one of the most fragrant crinums and very cold hardy.
Crinums produce fleshy seeds and are easily propagated from seeds. It did not take long for breeders to realize this and in 1819, the Hon. and Rev. William Herbert, Dean of Manchester, England produced the first Milk and Wine Lily, Crinum x herbertii.
The American plant breeder Luther Burbank (1849-1926) gave us White Queen, with c. macowanii in its parentage. It has beautiful bell shaped pure white flowers.
In 1915 Henry Nehrling, originally from Wisconsin, successfully crossed two hybrids to create Crinum Mrs. James Hendry. This compact variety has exquisite fragrance and none of the floppiness seen in other crinums. The white to pale pink blossoms face outward and don’t typically hang their heads like other crinums.
Crinums do not require much care, although heavy rains or frequent watering will produce an abundance of blooms. Give them space as the clumps will steadily create more offsets and the bulbs larger with time. They are virtually indistructable. No southern garden should be without a crinum.