Since moving to the South many years ago, I’ve always been fond of crinums (pronounced “CRY-nums”) or swamp lilies. In my travels across the state I’ve seen them in gardens, cemeteries, old home sites, and roadside ditches. In the spring bold green leaves sprout from underground bulbs (some attain the size of grapefruits) to create a fountainlike haystack of straplike leaves. In the summer clusters of lilylike flowers appear on three foot tall stalks in colors that range from white, pink, or striped (“milk and wine lilies”). Several common varieties include ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ (red), ‘Cecil Houdyshel’ (deep pink to red), and C. x powellii ‘Album (white). The Orange River lily (C. bulbispermum) is well-suited for wet areas (“hog wallows”); it’s flowering now in my garden (pictured) and will bloom sporadically though the summer and fall with white, pink or striped flowers.
More hard-to-find cultivars worth seeking out include the purple-leaved ‘Sangria’ with deep wine-pink flowers and ‘Regina’s Disco Lounge’ with large pale pink-white flowers with a darker central stripe to each lobe. Depending on the cultivar, crinums may bloom one time or sporadically throughout the season. To see these and hundreds of other crinum species and hybrids, visit Riverbanks Garden in Columbia.
Crinums not only offer ornamental interest, but also provide functional uses as well. In a regional gardening magazine crinum purveyor/aficionado and South Carolina plantsman, Jenks Farmer, wrote how he used “Momma’s Orange River lily as a hurdle for running and jumping races.”
Beauty and durability: isn’t it time you added a crinum to your landscape?