Since moving to the South many years ago, I’ve always been fond of crinums (pronounced "CRY-nums") or swamp lilies. In my travels through the Carolinas 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 fountain-like haystack of strap-like leaves. In the summer clusters of lily-like 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 blooms in the Spring and sporadically though the summer and fall producing 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.
Crinums not only offer ornamental interest, but also provide functional uses as well. In the regional gardening magazine, Crinum, my friend, Jenks Farmer, a South Carolina plantsman and owner of a connoisseur crinum nursery company in Bluffton, 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?