Looking lovely this week in the garden is Crinum politifolium, which hails from Tanzania. Not many people think of East Africa as a source of Zone 7b hardy plants, but areas such as the Southern Highland hold a wealth of horticultural potential, especially for geophytes, that hasn’t been well explored.
Looking lovely in the early fall garden are the xAmarcrinum. These are man-made hybrids between Crinum lilies and the South African Amaryllis belladonna. Despite the later not growing well here, the hybrids are quite amazing with their sweetly-fragranced flowers. All xAmarcrinum are somewhat similar in growth, with greatly reduced foliage from most crinum parents. The cultivar below is xAmarcrinum ‘Summer Maid’. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10.
Flowering now in the garden is one of our favorite crinum lily species, the South African native, Crinum buphanoides. The name comes from its resemblance to another South African member of the Amaryllid family, the less winter hardy, Boophane.
Despite a few folks who tell us they’ve had trouble growing this, our experience is quite the opposite. We have it growing in many locations (since 2005) around the property and all are thriving. We grow ours in sandy loam that’s been heavily amended with compost. Hardiness is Zone 7b-9a, at least.
As we mentioned in a recent blog, we have a ridiculously large collection of Crinum lily cultivars and species. Despite this, we’re always making new crosses in our goal to improve the quality of plants available. Despite their being nearly 1,000 named crinums, there is still dramatic room for improvement. Below is one of our seedlings, which we named last year (Crinum ‘Americana’), erupting in a blaze of glory last week. Most crinum lilies flower for a period of 1-2 months with little to no care, so there’s good value for the space taken. Since the bulbs are so large, it will usually take years to produce and propagate enough of a new introduction to share with the public.
It was great to get a chance to reconnect with Florida plantsman Nestor White at our recent Open Nursery and Garden, since it had been well over a decade since his last visit. Nestor has what is almost certainly the largest Crinum collection in the world with over 1,000 different accessions. If you purchase crinums on Ebay, you’ve most likely dealt with Nestor. Although we have nearly 400 crinum accessions, we’ll never have a collection as extensive as the one that he’s assembled. Well done!
In the crinum lily world, a yellow flower is considered the holy grail by plant breeders, since it only naturally exists in the Australian crinum species, Crinum luteolum. Two other species which occasionally show a yellow blush in the flower are Crinum bulbispermum and Crinum jagus. Crinum luteolum is completely ungrowable in the Southeast US. Consequently, we must find yellow pigment from the other two species.
Many years ago, a secretive California crinum breeder distributed a fuzzy Sasquatch-like photo of what was supposedly his yellow flowered crinum, derived from a white-flowered Crinum bulbispermum. The plant itself has never been seen in person, despite assurances from the breeder that it still exists. In 2008, the breeder agreed to sell us seed from his parent plant, with the caveat that it wouldn’t look like the parent.
Below is the best clone that we selected from our first set of seedlings from Crinum ‘Yellow Triumph’. As you can see, the flower is virtually all white, except for a chartreuse green base. Since it was a nice flowering clone, we gave it the name Crinum ‘White Swans’.
Since 2008, we have repeatedly self-pollinated our original seedling selection, each time selecting those offspring that showed the most yellow color. Over time, the best seedlings were crossed with each other, and the selection process continued.
Fast forward to 2023…15 years after our original seedling flowered, we finally have plants that are showing a decent amount of yellow in the flowers. The yellow shows best as the flowers open in late afternoon. Below are two of our best 2019/2020 seedlings. While these aren’t yet a finished product, we are seeing the proverbial gold light at the end of the long tunnel.
Re-appropriating a line from the late Buck Owens, it’s crinum time again. Crinum lilies begin their flowering season in our climate around April 1 (frost permitting). Some bloom for a short number of weeks, while other rebloom for months. Depending on the genetics, some crinum hybrids start flowering in spring, some in summer, and others in fall, and a few flower during the entire growing season.
Crinum ‘High on Peppermint’ is one of our newer named hybrids, which starts flowering for us around June 1, and hasn’t stopped yet.
Crinum ‘Superliscious’ is another of our new hybrids that starts flowering July 1, and has yet to stop. Now that our evaluation process is complete, we’ll start the propagation process.
Crinum ‘Southern Star’ is an incredible hybrid from the late Roger Berry, entrusted to us to propagate and make available. That’s a tall order since it’s one of the slowest offsetting crinum lilies we’ve ever grown. Crinum ‘Southern Star’ is a hybrid with the virtually ungrowable, yellow-flowered Crinum luteolum, which hails from Southern Australia. For us, Crinum ‘Southern Star’ doesn’t start it’s floral display until August 1.
Gardeners in Zone 7b wouldn’t typically think of Angola (tropical West Central Africa) as a place to search for hardy perennials, but we’ve been thrilled with the performance of two natives of the region, Crinum fimbriatulum and Crinum jagus. The reason we kill so many plants is we try things that people with better sense would assume wouldn’t have a chance of the proverbial snowball.
Crinum fimbriatulum is flowering now for us, while Crinum jagus bloomed a few weeks earlier. Crinum fimbriatulum is the taller of the two, with spikes reaching nearly 4′ tall. Our plants were planted in 2009. They thrive in average to above average soil moisture.
Crinum jagus has been in the ground at JLBG since 2015. It’s a much shorter plant with 2′ tall flower spikes, but with incredibly lush, attractive foliage.
Plant breeders are an odd sort…people who are never satisfied with their results, and as such are always looking to improve even the most fabulous creation. We’ve been dabbling with crinum lilies for several years, and the first photo below is one of our newest creations, Crinum ‘Razzleberry’, which is rather amazing. Despite this success, we return to the breeding fields to see what else awaits from additional gene mixing.
Crinum flowers typically open in early evening…5-7pm for us. The first step in breeding is to remove the petals, to have good access to the male pollen (the powdery tips atop the six pink thingys), and the female pistil, the single longer thingy with a dark pink knob at the top and a bigger knob at the bottom. Most crinum pollen is yellow, but depending on the parentage, some hybrids have white pollen.
The male thingy is known as a stamen, comprised two parts, the filament (the pink thing), and the anther (the part with the pollen). The female parts are known as the pistil, comprised of the ovary (bottom), the style (the pink thingy), and the stigma (the sticky knob at the tip.
In breeding, the anther is removed and the pollen is dusted on the stigma of a different plant to make the cross. Crinums produce an insane amount of nectar, so crinum breeders are constantly dodging sphinx moth pollinators, as well as dealing with the ant superhighway below as they haul off the nectar.
If your cross is successful, you will have seed forming in about a month. The seed are quite large, and must be planted immediately, since they have zero shelf life.
Once the seeds germinate it normally takes 4-5 years for your new seedlings to bloom. During the first several years you can evaluate vigor and growth habit, but the final evaluation can’t be made until it blooms.
Our OCD is on full display with many of our plant collections including the summer-flowering Crinum lilies. Our collections here at JLBG have now topped 400 crinum taxa. In addition to collecting the best plants from other breeders, we have also been making a few of our own selected hybrids. Below are a few photos of plants we have recently selected and named. None of these are available yet, and most will still be a few years away, while we build up enough stock to share.
If you’ve never grown crinums (first cousin of hippeastrum), they form huge bulbs, and thrive in full sun in average to moist soils.
About the same time that America’s Captain Kirk blasted off into space recently, we were enjoying his namesake here in the gardens at JLBG. Crinum kirkii is a fantastic dwarf crinum lily to only 18″ tall, that is sadly almost never seen in commerce. Full disclosure…Crinum kirkii was actually named for botanist Sir John Kirk, who found and sent this previously undescribed species from his outpost in Zanzibar to Kew Gardens in 1879.
Crinum kirkii has thrived for us here in Zone 7b since 2012. Our plants of this African species are from Tanzania. Perhaps one day, we can produce enough of these to share.
It’s been a great month for crinum lilies in the garden, so here are a few of our more recent images. Crinums are native in the wild to Africa, North America, South America, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Some are winter hardy to Zone 7, while others are completely happy in Zone 6.
We have a rather large collections of crinum lilies at JLBG and occasionally take time to make a few crosses. One of our recent selections is one we’ve named Crinum ‘Delerium’. Flowering again this week, this is a cross of Crinum variabile and Crinum bulbispermum, meaning it should be winter hardy in Zone 6. We re just dividing our original clump for the first time, so it will take a few years to get enough to share, but the process has begun.
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.”
Early June is an amazing time for crinum lilies in the gardens here at Juniper Level and here’s one of our favorites, photographed yesterday. Crinum ‘Improved Peachblow‘ is simply amazing…great flower form, sturdy stems, pink buds that open white, and a fragrance that’ll make a honeysuckle jealous. Crinum lilies are very easy to grow, but flower best in a moist, sunny location.
I just snapped this photo of the amazing Crinum buphanoides…one of the most unique crinum lilies we grow. Be sure to check it out if you visit for our open nursery and garden this weekend. Only a few plants of this rarely offered crinum lily remain in the sales area.