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Cape Coast lily
Common Vlei Crinum
A robust and stately, rather large geophyte, with a variable growth habit over its wide distribution. It has a fairly strange, necked bulb from which long, fleshy, whip-like, wavy-edged leaves radiate, and its bright, rosy-white, tubular flowers contrast sharply with the bluish-green foliage. The spring borne flowers are very showy, being quite large, open, trumpet-shaped, and coloured in different shades of pink, with ebony anthers and dark, sweet pollen. The strongly fragranced flowers are held erect above the plant on a slender yet sturdy stalk, usually open in the twilight hours, and last about two days. The genus name is derived from the Greek word for lily – krinon, and these are hardy, rewarding garden plants.
This is one of the most widely distributed species of Crinum indigenous to South Africa.
It favours summer rainfall areas of the southern, eastern and central parts of the country, and can be found from the coast to montane regions of about 2000 m above sea-level.
It frequents a wide variety of habitats, from wet grasslands and vlei-like areas, to woodlands and coastal scrubland.
It is also often found on rocky outcrops and near rivers or along streambanks.
From the Eastern cape to Zimbabwe, with a scattered distribution in Gauteng, the Free State, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
Foliage & Bulb
The often large, globose bulbs, which can vary in size from 60 to about 280 mm diameter, typically narrow into a short neck-like feature, and give rise to a low, almost basal rosette or clump of fleshy, strap-like leaves.
The spreading and slightly arched leaves (600-800 x 1450-160 mm), are heavily channelled with a prominent, scabrous midrib and faintly undulating margins.
They have a bluish-green colour, usually form a short stem, and can grow quite large and lengthy in shady, damp environments.
Each plant produces a long (800-1200 mm), sturdy stalk from which 2-25, upwards opening flowers emerge.
Older and larger specimens have been seen with up to 5 of these flower stems, which are erect at first, and gradually recline.
The flowers are very beautiful; large and trumpet or bell-shaped, with short tubes and petals that curve backwards at the tips.
The slender flowers are pale to dark pink and white, with slightly darker crimson stripes and a dark keel.
The anthers are black tipped, and the pollen is black.
They have a strong, lovely fragrance and typically bloom at the start of the rainy season.
After the flowers, at the ends of the flower stalks, attractive, green to yellow, fleshy, gnarled and slightly beaked, layered seed capsules (40-60 mm), appear.
Each seed head contains up to 20 small, smooth, silvery grey-green seeds which are scattered when it splits open.
The uneven, somewhat corky surface of the seeds acts as a natural water-deterrent and helps them stay afloat for extended periods of time, thus enhancing seed dispersal in their natural environment.
500 – 1100 mm.
C.macowanii has a rich and diverse history of use in traditional medicine and has been used to treat various afflictions in both animals and humans.
Several alkaloids have been isolated from the leaves and parts of the bulb, and these have a wide range of biological activities.
Extracts have shown various antifungal, antitumor, antiviral, antispasmodic, analgesic and hypotensive effects, and are even said to influence the cardiovascular and central nervous system.
The plant is typically not used on its own but is mixed with other ingredients.
Concoctions are used for cleansing the blood, to treat bladder and kidney ailments and to reduce fever and swellings.
It is also used to treat diarrhoea, urinary tract problems and pain in the lower back.
The leaves are made into a bandage to treat swellings and wounds, and mixtures of the different parts have been used to treat rashes, boils, sores, acne and other skin ailments.
Several animal diseases are also treated with concoctions of this plant, and it is popular in traditional veterinary medicine.
Crinamine, which is a powerful respiratory depressant and transient hypotensive for dogs, also occurs in many Crinum species.
Further investigation into the various biological activities efficacy, toxicity and clinical relevance are needed, and continued use of extracts is not currently recommended, as it does contain toxic substances.
The bulbs do contain certain highly toxic compounds, and some species of Crinum have traditionally been used as arrow poisons by local people.
Due to its alleged miraculous medicinal properties, it has been extensively and unsustainably harvested over the last few years.
It is now facing a continued threat with regards to its natural population.
These fleshy plants are a prime and favoured target of the Amaryllis caterpillar, and the little worms should be removed as quickly as possible.
The strongly scented flowers attract bees, butterflies and a host of other insects.
The insects that flock towards the flowers will lure certain insectivorous bird species.
These stately lilies are the perfect addition to a mixed flower border, and they can tolerate slightly adverse conditions.
The highly perfumed flowers, which are at their most fragrant towards the evening, can be planted close to a window or patio where their lovely scent can be fully appreciated.
They make lovely and strikingly beautiful garden plants, and if planted as focal or accent specimens, they are sure to attract attention.
An established and happy Crinum can produce more than 3 inflorescences in succession.
They do not like to be disturbed, do not require too much maintenance, and are ideal for smaller spaces.
Due to its ease of cultivation, and the fact that it readily produces masses of seed, it is a very popular choice for a great many landscaping applications.
The River Lily makes a wonderful container specimen, and also looks very pretty in a rockery or wild/jungle themed garden.
As they tolerate very wet and poorly drained soils, they are the perfect choice for planting next to or in close proximity of a water feature such as a pond, where other bulbs may struggle.
It is frost tender but can survive outdoors in areas that experience only occasional and mild frosty spells.
In areas that experience regular, severe colds and frosts, it is better suited to indoor planting in large containers or should be planted in a very sheltered position.
The Sabie Crinum is a water-loving bulb, but also has a relatively high drought tolerance, as it can store some moisture in its underground tuber.
During the winter months it requires no extra water, and should be kept as dry as possible, especially in colder climates.
This is a moderately fast growing bulbous perennial that will typically reach flowering age after about 3 seasons.
It is also quite long-lived under ideal conditions and does not take well to being moved or disturbed.
These bulbs prefer a sunny position, and will grow best there, but may accept very light shade.
Soil & Water
These bulbs are very tolerant to a wide range of soil conditions, and in nature they can be found growing in moist alluvial and hard, dry shale-like, sandy soils.
They even tolerate somewhat brackish and clayish soils.
However, for the best flowering and plant development, they prefer a moist, humus (nutrient) rich, very well-drained loamy or peaty soil, with a slightly acidic ph.
It is a heavy-feeder, and benefits greatly from a regular dose of liquid fertiliser or enriched compost, which will be most beneficial if given in early spring.
During the active growing months, make sure it has a steady supply of water, this can be reduced during late summer, completely stopped in winter, and should commence as soon as temperatures start to rise again.
This species is most often grown from seed, as it produces these readily and in a great number.
The seeds however do not have a long viability period and should be sown very soon after harvesting.
Sow the seeds into deep seedlings trays filled with a well-drained and nutrient rich medium.
Place the trays in a bright, warm, temperate area and keep the soil moist.
Germination typically occurs within 2-3 weeks.
After about 2 season the bulbs should be moved to their permanent positions, and then left undisturbed.
Plant the bulbs with the necks slightly exposed and just above ground level and remember to check them regularly for signs of bug infestation.