Giant Crinum

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Giant Crinum, Crinum augustum (Queen Emma)

 Family: Amaryllidaceas

Also known as: Crinum, Swamp Lily, Cape Lily,River Lily, Mangrove Lily, Spider Lily, Milk Lily, Wine Lily or Spider Lily

(Is ours, in fact, a Crinum augustum?   For all intents and purposes, it seems to generally meet most of the physical description criteria.  However, a bit of delving into my library of tropical plant resource books divulges that there seems to be a bit of dissention in the botanic ranks!  However, we will say here – moderately authoritatively – that it is!) 

The renowned tropical plant authority, W. Arthur Whistler, says that the Giant Crinum Lily is native to the island states of Seychelles and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.   However, further research divulged that others believe the “Queen Emma” – named for the wife of Hawaiian King Kamehameha IV – is actually a cultivated variety from – well, who’d have guessed it – Hawaii. 

Regardless of this confusion, the first ones we acquired were found, way off the beaten path, away from the coast several miles in the mountains of the southern part of the State of Jalisco.  It happily grew in the front yard of a young Mexican couple with a darling little girl.  When he observed me, parked along the road coveting his plant, the gracious young man – though in his Sunday best and getting ready to go to Sunday Mass – promptly knelt down and, with his bare hands, started to dig up several of its newly sprouted babies for me! 

Substantive further research has borne out my initial suspicion that the origin of this outstanding looking lily is simply not clear.  As a result, I can but only wonder how it found its way up to this rather remote locale in Mexico!  In fact, this may lend further credence to the belief by some that this plant is a naturally-occurring hybrid of Crinum zeylanicum and some other species.  Suffice it to say, confusion is rampant on this species as the deeper one digs, (pun probably intended) with several other plants found that are mistakenly described as Crinum augustum

That all aside, let’s just go with what we do know of these attractive plants.  In the genus Crinum, there are around 150 varieties of these tropical and sub-tropical beauties with only a few commercially available.  They can be successfully used for borders, bedding plants or as a solitary feature plant.  In the wild, Giant Crinum Lilies are said to be found growing along lakes, in swamps, marshes, and estuaries – but you might’ve already guessed that from its first secondary name!?

It is a perennial herb with an onion shaped bulb and erect, strap-like leaves which grow up to three or more feet (91.44 cm) in length, and are three plus inches (7.62 cm) wide. Their very attractive six-petal, flowers rise from the bulb on long flower stalks, separate from the leaves.  Tinged in purple, they smell somewhat like lilac.  (I’ve another specimen that I suspect to be a Crinum asiaticum that is entirely white.)  Both remind me of a grouping of Spider Orchids on steroids!

These long living plants can grow up to six to eight feet (1.83 – 2.44 meters) high in highly structural clumps in well-drained sandy soil.  The pride of their existence (depending on the variety you have found) are those 20 to 30 large, lily-like red, white, pink, purple or bi-color flowers at the ends of long, stout stems.  

I understand that in the wild, those tiny – but loud mouthed – little green tree frogs find homes in these clumps; and, I know for a fact that hummingbirds love their blossoms.  It tolerates poor soil as long as it’s cool – hence mulching is good – and has plenty of water to drink.  Beyond copious agua, top dressing of compost or dried cow manure is much appreciated by them.

These Giant Crinum Lilies flourish in sun or partial shade.  Ours thrive under full sun in large pots.   I’d encourage fertilizing your Crinum augustum weekly during its growth periods.

I’ve read that the root is a good wound poultice; heated and oiled leaves can be applied to sprains; and Australian aborigines crushed its stems and roots for application to marine, insect and jelly fish stings. 

(A’hhhh, aren’t we a veritable fount of strange, if not outright bizarre, minutia?  But, perhaps – ya’ never know – the time might arise when you’ll need such Nifty Nuggets of Knowledge!)

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Presently by our pool, this beauty is being moved elsewhere tomorrow – to a bigger pot – as he’s grown so big as to block the view!

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These lovely flowers smell slightly of the lilac bushes from my Midwest U.S. youth!

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On the northern side of our gardens, showcased in one of several large pots that we have constructed from old tenacos, the leaves of this variety droop slightly.