Don’t let the name fool you, Hymenocallis caribaea ‘Tropical Giant’, as this North American native spider lily (Northern Mexico) has been hardy in our garden (zone 7b) without any protection since 2000. It’s flowering season has begun here at JLBG. Unlike some hymenocallis which require moist soils, this one will grow darn near anywhere. The new flowers open each evening, releasing a sweet fragrance that attracts night-pollinating moths.
Flowering today at JLBG is Crinum ‘Walter Flory’…not only a superb crinum, but one named after one of NC’s pre-eminent botanists. Dr. Walter Flory (1907-1998) was a botany professor at Wake Forest University.
Dr. Flory received his PhD in 1931 from the University of Virginia for his work with both edible asparagus and phlox. From 1936 – 1944 (during WWII), Flory was a horticulturist for the Texas Experiment Station, where he bred a number of crops for the southern climate. It was here that Flory developed what would become a lifelong passion for members of the Amaryllis family. After eight years in Texas, Flory returned to his native Virginia, where he continued to climb the academic ladder, culminating in being named Director of the 700-acre Blandy Experimental Farm, which included the 130-acre Orlando White Arboretum. In this position, Flory was able to have graduate students carry on his research in the Amaryllid family.
In 1952, Flory made his first botanizing trip to Mexico, focusing on hymenocallis, zephyranthes, and sprekelia. Follow-up trips became more frequent and Flory regularly botanized both the Texas and Mexican sides of the US border. In short, Flory’s study and research into members of the Amaryllid family has greatly increased our understanding of this amazing group.
In 1963, after some significant arm-twisting, Flory accepted a new position as the Babcock Chair of Botany at Wake Forest University. There, he developed the first non-medical doctoral program at the University. With his reduced teaching load, and ability to travel worldwide for research and botanizing, Flory was able to publish much more amaryllid research.
The crinum below, which bears his name, was named and introduced by his good friend, plantswoman/nursery owner, Kitty Clint. What a shame that after offering this amazing crinum for a decade we only had a few people who every purchased it. At least, you now know what the late Paul Harvey called, “the rest of the story.”
Hymen flowers (aka Hymenocallis) are still going, as the Northern Mexican species now perfume the garden. The genus begins flowering in spring, and if you grow a wide range of species, you can have flowers until late summer/early fall. Here’s a photo we recently took of Hymenocallis pimana in the garden. While many hymenocallis prefer very moist soils, we grow this in a dry bed with agaves and cactus. Starting in early evening, the flowers emit a honeysuckle-like fragrant to lure evening moths for reproductive activities. While we also like the more commonly sold Dutch hybrids, which are actually intergeneric crosses with the South American Ismene, we think the North American native species are far superior as garden plants, so we’ve always wondered why these don’t sell nearly as well as they should.