It was love at first sight that day in Brookhaven, Mississippi, when I came across the grand crinum lily, Crinum asiaticum, I fell in love even though it wasn’t blooming. The tree-like structure of the stem or stalk and the large exotic foliage sold me with its texture before I had even experienced the beauty of the white blooms or tantalizing fragrance.
What many gardeners don’t realize is that there is a native crinum lily, Crinum americanum that is just as beautiful and fragrant with its glistening white blooms Though it possesses rare beauty, it really could use a Madison Avenue public relations firm as it is most often referred to as Florida swamp lily or bog lily.
You most certainly do not have to have a swamp or a bog to grow this native that grows in zones 8 (and sometimes zone 7) to 11, which covers South Florida. It does like sun and fertile moist soil.
Soil must be organically rich and well-drained, two prerequisites for crinums, so incorporate 3 to 4 inches of organic matter into your planting bed. These are large bulbs that should be planted a minimum of 6 inches deep. Space your bulbs 2 to 3 feet apart. If you are buying potted nursery plants then dig your hole two to three times as wide as the container, planting with the top of the rootballl even with the soil surface.
I really like crinums best in mixed flower borders. In the tropical garden combine them with bananas and elephant ears.
Crinum lilies are the long-term investments of the plant world. Once you start growing them you will not only be glad you did but more than likely you'll start searching for more.
Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South.”