The heat and humidity are cranking up, and we are entering Crinum season in the garden. Crinum are classic southern garden plants, something you just won’t see in gardens in the U.S. northeast or midwest. They are large bulbs (some softball-sized or bigger) that produce masses of foliage and large, intensely fragrant flowers during the hottest part of the year. The bulbs are very long lived, and many hybrids are “heirlooms” that have been passed down from gardener to gardener for the last century or two. However, as interest in these plants wanes and waxes, interesting new hybrids are still being made.
Crinum is a pan-tropical genus of the Amaryllidaceae, the amaryllis family. Most of the showy hybrids are derived from South African species, with occasional crosses to a few South American or Asian plants. The most hardy and suitable for growing in Zone 7 tend to be crosses with the African Crinum bulbispermum. The majority of plants that I see in gardens around here seem to be the old hybrid Crinum x powellii ( C. bulbispermum x C. moorei), in either its pink- or white-flowered incarnation. I planted my first Crinum x powellii ‘Alba’ bulb this spring, so I don’t expect flowers from it this year. Several other hybrids are blooming now, though:
Crinum ‘Pat’s Herbertia’
This one is supposedly Crinum bulbispermum x (scabrum x bulbispermum). It has 4-ft long arching leaves and large, fragrant tubular flowers on an inflorescence about 4-ft tall.
The individual flowers only last a day or two, but they’re produced successively over the course of a week to ten days. Multiple inflorescences are produced over the summer months; my plant is currently blooming on inflorescence number three for the year, and two more are growing rapidly.
Crinum ‘Mrs. James Hendry’
This is a hybrid of unknown parentage dating from the early 1900s. Scott Ogden in Garden Bulbs for the South (Timber Press) writes that Crinum ‘Mrs. James Hendry’ is one of the “most beautiful and rewarding of southern perennials.” I can’t disagree. Unlike C. bulbispermum hybrids that can look messy when their foliage gets whipped around by the wind, Crinum ‘Mrs. James Hendry’ has neat, upright, sword-shaped leaves about 3-3.5 ft long. The flowers open pink and fade to white, and they have the most amazing fragrance, particularly in the evening.
Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ — Maybe
This plant was supposed to be a striped hybrid but was clearly was mislabeled. I am fairly sure that it is Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet,’ a hybrid dating from around 1915 that is generally considered to be one of the best ‘red’ (i.e. reddish purple -there are no true reds) Crinum hybrids.
The buds of Crinum macowanii (Zambia form) were attacked by slugs this year, but I hope it will produce another inflorescence later in the summer. I’m also hoping that this will be the year that some seed-grown Crinum bulbispermum ‘Jumbo’ plants finally bloom. I also have a couple of small Crinum buphanoides seedlings that are still in pots. They will remain in the greenhouse for a couple more years, until I can be sure that the bulbs are large enough to survive the rigors of a North Carolina winter.