Crinums are a plant that I had never heard of until I moved to Texas, and they are rarely seen in the retail trade. This is unfortunate, because it would be hard to find a more beautiful and bulletproof plant for East Texas gardens. They require very little care, are long-lived and bloom profusely with very little attention from the gardener.
Crinums originally entered the South from the Caribbean via Florida nurseries, and quickly became staples of the Southern garden. Commonly called crinum lilies, they are actually members of the amaryllis family (Amaryllidacae), and crinum are a genus of about 180 species of plants that have large, showy flowers on leafless stems that develop from bulbs - in this case, very large bulbs. Crinums produce large clumps of strap-like foliage, and blooms appear on 2- to 3-foot stalks beginning in late spring and continuing throughout the summer, depending on the cultivar.
The most common varieties that I’ve seen in the Tyler area are Milk and Wine, which blooms in May, with white blooms lined with burgundy; Ellen Bosanquet, which blooms in early June, with dark pink flowers; and Alba, which blooms with white blossoms later on in the summer. All are easy to grow, and require very little care. They like full sun, but will also bloom well in afternoon or dappled shade. Every May I see a spectacular display of Milk and Wine crinum lining a drive just west of the Flint Baptist church on Farm-to-Market Road 2868.
Plant the bulbs in the fall, burying them up to their necks. Keep well mulched during the winter. During bloom season, when a flower fades, just snap it off, and new buds will keep opening up. The bulbs are incredibly long-lived and, judging by the ones you see blooming in abandoned home sites, they will outlive the gardener who plants them.
Plant crinums where you won’t need to move them. The bulbs seem to dig themselves deeper and get larger and larger with every passing year. After several years, if you want to move the plant, you will find that the mother bulb has gotten gigantic. When I donated crinum to the Master Gardeners’ Bulb Sale one year, it took three men to get the bulbs out of the ground, and one mother bulb weighed 20 pounds. Baby bulblets can be cut off the side of the mother bulb and replanted or given away to friends.
Don’t worry about hurting the mother bulb when you do this.
The Smith County Master Gardeners will have bulbs of these marvelous plants for sale this year at their Bulbs and More plant sale Oct. 8 at Harvey Convention Center.