Thursday, September 4, 2008

Crinums with Provenance

Here’s a Crinum americanum/spider lily photographed fresh this morning. I acquired the original plants on a lunch break in a park. They were being dug up and dumped because the neighborhood wanted something more tidy and spectacular. It’s not a front-of-the-bed plant but it has some great qualities and is native here. The blooms smell like lemons and magnolia. It’s happy in shade or sun. You can’t kill it in standing water or dried out clay—it’s perfect for rain gardens.
From my garden they have now gone to various plant sales, Native Plant Society swaps, and even a bayou restoration project. That’s an honorable career for a plant once headed to the trashbag.

This Deep Sea Lily came from a 19th century place in the Old Sixth Ward which belonged to my friend Ms Alex. It has six-foot long floppy foliage which gets tangled up in an undersea way. It is probably Crinum x herbertii, an old hybrid with African ancestors. For some reason, Ms Alex and I decided to divide her clump of lilies. Chipping away the clay, I got an education on what a monster bulb this thing has. Eighteen inches down I was still trying to dig under the bulbs but splitting them midway. The ones that I got out intact looked just like leeks on a grand scale.
I replanted them at home without much forethought, and now they are completely shaded, which means they should be relocated somewhere sunny. I think about all the excavation required and I can’t get excited about it. The flowers on my variety are so-so compared to other “Milk and Wine” types, and the scapes fall over the instant the buds open. But it has great bluish green foliage and I do love a blue-green plant.

There was a sad one-leafed lily growing right up by the dark foundation of our neighborhood abandoned house. I wanted to rescue it and put it in my bed for wayward amaryllises, because that’s what I assumed it was. I took a hand spade, a bag, and the dog (for cover) down to the house one evening and I lifted that little bulb. Five fingered gardening, I think it’s called. Stealing. The plant is quite robust now, but didn’t bloom with the amaryllises this spring.
In June, I lucked into a ticket to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, with Ms Kelli and family. On rambles I saw Hymenocallis spider lilies in beautiful clumps along the undeveloped beaches. Here's one blooming by a beach hut at our resort, Iberostar Quetzal.

When I got home, my hot ‘amaryllis’ was blooming—and it’s a Hymenocallis. I didn’t get a picture. I wasn’t garden blogging then. Now I’ve found out there are a zillion varieties of US and Mexican Hymenocallis, according to Scott Ogden’s book Garden Bulbs for the South. Guess I have to wait till next year when it blooms if I want to know what kind it is.
I have to say I like my passalong crinums with a little shady history more than the blank slate plants I get from a nursery.

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