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Big bold perennials

crinum lily bed.jpg

crinum lily bed.jpg

Posted: Sunday, January 31, 2016 6:00 am

Big bold perennials

One of the offshoots of my visit to see Judy Veach’s red Esperanza was a chance to see some of her other plants. The one that caught my eye (actually nearly knocked me off my feet) was what she called a Milk and Wine Lily. I took a couple photos with my phone and headed out. My sources at Grimselll’s gave me the name crinum lily, so with my curiosity piqued I set off to spend some time with Google. What I found was very interesting.

The wine and milk lily is one example of a very old and hardy plant called a Crinum (CRY num) Lily. Crinums are perennials that used to be very popular in the South and according to Bill Welch, a horticulture professor at Texas AM, were among the earliest plants to be extensively hybridized. This accounts for the many many species now available. Unfortunately, while they were once

cherished by southern gardeners, today they are found mostly “untended in cemeteries, country gardens, abandoned homesites, and poorer sections of town” according to Steve Bender’s article in Southern Living. Their decline came about mostly due to the ascent of the Dutch bulb industry, as crinums didn’t grow well in Europe, and to the fact that established crinums are hard to transplant. Fortunately, they are currently available online at mail order nurseries. Once again we are reminded not to narrow our gardening vision here in South Texas to the range of cool, moist-weather plants often featured in story tales.

Greg Grant, author (and clearly a country music buff) wrote “It’s Crinum Time Again” for planet and says that “crinums are to the South what the peony is to the North, big bold perennials with wonderful flowers for cutting.” They are not really lilies but are in the amaryllis family. They are supremely adapted to hot, muggy southern conditions and can be cultivated only in zones 7 – 10. They can be planted any time of the year although we are cautioned that newly planted bulbs could be sensitive to cold. Although crinums are very forgiving, they perform best with sun and regular moisture. There was some conflict in the articles as to how much sun, with one saying full sun and another recommending partial shade. These plants should thrive in our Valley landscapes! (FYI Grant has many labeled pictures of crinums at the end of his article.)

Crinums have bold foliage which can grow in mounds. Their large bulbs store both water and food and are therefore hard to dig up. They can be planted in any kind of soil and should be planted by burying the bulbs up to their necks. Every article recommended planting them where you intend them to stay because they can only be moved with a great deal of effort due to their size. (Old bulbs can weigh as much as 20 pounds!) On the bright side, they never need to be thinned. Their stems can be 3 – 4 feet long, are leafless, and are topped with great clusters of fragrant spidery flowers. In landscaping, they are recommended as underplantings for palms or other coarsely textured plants, and can be set off by a very low ground cover. One of things I liked was that the stem was so long the flower clusters were high enough to be easily seen. I definitely intend to add a carefully placed bulb or two to my own back yard.


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Sunday, January 31, 2016 6:00 am.

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