It Must be Crinum Time Again!

San Antonio Express News
GARDENING, Etc.
Sunday, October 9, 2005

By Dr. Jerry Parsons

The saying: “When it rains, it pours!” can definitely be applied to the subject matter of questions received by PLANTanswers.com This has been the case with questions about Crinum lilies for several months now. It started with Sherry in Charlotte, North Carolina, wanting to know if Crinum lilies can be grown in Charlotte which is in growing zone 7.

I answered: “You are lucky because I just happened to read an article about Crinum lilies on pp. 66–68 in the August Southern Living Magazine which quotes Greg Grant as saying: “About the only factor limiting Crinums is cold. Most hybrids do just fine from the Middle South on down. In the Upper South, stick with hardy Crinum (Crinum bulbispermum), long-neck Crinum (C. moorei), and selections of C. x powellii. Mulching them in late fall provides extra insurance.” I don’t know whether Greg considers Charlotte, North Carolina “Upper South” or “Middle South”–maybe he will define these terms for us. You might want to get that copy of the August edition of Southern Living Magazine and read about the other Crinums in the article. Enjoy.” I e-mailed Greg Grant who serves as an expert for PLANTanswers and is also the creator of Arcadia Archives at: http://www.plantanswers.com /arcadia_archives.htm, and he confirmed that the Upper South Crinums would do well in North Carolina.

I thought I had solved the problem but then Melissa from Bloomington, Illinois, writes to see if Crinums will they grow in zone 5a? Melissa writes: “My guess is the answer to the question of Crinums growing in zone 5a is no, but it never hurts to ask. I live in 5a and on a creek. I am looking for a hardy variety flower for the hillside next to the creek. I saw an article on Crinums and was intrigued. Bulbispernum sounds nice for the purpose, but I suspect it will be too cold. I may have to reserve my Crinum curiosity to a nice gift for my mother-in-law in Tampa.”

I e-mailed Greg: “I know you answered this for Charleston, South Carolina, but I think Illinois is a bit too cold!” He answered: “Yep, too cold. Crinum bulbispermum is the most cold hardy but that’s pushing it. Plants would have to be in a pot or dug each winter and stored.” -Greg Grant

I had “dodged another Crinum “bullet” but the barrage was not over—- Mary Anne of Mesa, Arizona writes: “Can the Crinum Lily be grown in the heat of full sun in Mesa, Arizona, through temperatures of between 100 and 115 degrees F. for weeks at a time? Marilyn in Dallas, Texas, writes: “Would Crinums do good in Dallas? If so would all of them or would I need a special kind? Then, Anne in Wichita, Kansas, writes: I just ran across this beautiful and hardy bulb on the Internet. I live in zone 6 and want to know if they would be hardy in my zone. If one species would be better than another in my area, could you recommend it?” Then, Diane in Connecticut writes: “Can I grow these here in CT or are they just for the South?”

I thought we had handled all of the where-to-grow Crinum questions, and then we began to receive the how-to-grow questions such as the one from Mary Lou in Cheraw, South Carolina. She wanted to know: “What kind of food and area should a Crinum be. I have two different kinds, but they don’t bloom like they once did when I planted them, though they are multiplying every year. ” Greg Grant comes through for us again, writing: “Though Crinums don’t require much food to survive, they thrive with moisture and fertilizer (organic or chemical). They HAVE to have full sun to bloom however. Some cultivars bloom all the time (Cecil Houdyshel), some heavy during a certain period (Ellen Bosanquet), and some hardly at all (J.C. Harvey). Some multiply quickly (Mrs. James Hendry) and some hardly at all (Sangria). Best to treat them like cannas, sun, food, and regular moisture.” -Greg Grant

The last inquiry we had “drove me over the edge.” Helene in Sweden writes: “Hello! I would like to find out more about the Crinum genus and some history… Thank you for an answer.” THAT DID IT!!! Greg Grant graciously furnished the following write-up plus a list of summer bulbs and bulb definitions:

The genus Crinum includes about 130 species occurring in warm tropical regions of the world, especially Africa and Asia. This genetic heritage makes widespread cultivation only possible in zones 7-10, as they aren’t cold hardy in northern climates. This also makes them supremely adapted to hot, muggy southern conditions. Crinums (pronounced “CRY-nums”) are to the South what peonies are to the north, big bold perennials with wonderful flowers for cutting. The often fragrant, lily-like flowers occur in clusters on stalks around three feet tall and can be white, pink, or striped (milk and wine lilies). Then he lists some wonderful Crinums to consider for a Texas garden which because of space limitations, I have logged in the column for the third week in October in the Parsons’ column archives at:
http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_columns.htm and titled: Crinum Time Again!

Greg listed some sources of Crinums and I noticed the last address was a local fellow, Steve Lowe, so I requested that Steve also provide some Crinum information. He sent me an article about PERENNIAL BULBS FOR CENTRAL TEXAS which is a part of the Crinum Time Again! column in the PLANTanswers.com archive listed above. Steve Lowe is Horticulturist for the San Antonio Botanical Garden and worked for the San Antonio Zoo as horticulturist for over 20 years. Steve writes that Crinums or cemetery lilies are the trademark planting of old settlements throughout the South. Although sometimes referred to as “swamp lilies”, most require only moderate amounts of moisture to thrive. Many relish our heavy soils and are indifferent to high soil alkalinity. With mulch and Southern exposure, most are reasonably hardy into Zone 7. According to these two Crinum experts, the recent interest in Crinum lilies is well deserved.

Dr. Jerry Parsons is a Professor for Texas A&M University and a Texas Cooperative Extension Horticulturist for over 30 years in South Central Texas. For more information on this or other horticulture topics, go to www.plantanswers.com and our County Extension website at https://bexar-tx.tamu.edu.

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