Most of the time, when flowering bulbs are mentioned, tulips and daffodils are what first come to mind. But, these heralds of early spring are not the only bulbs that dazzle and beautify Texas landscapes. There’s another set of flowering plants that grow from bulbs, corms and rhizomes that bloom in the summertime.
Crinums. Big and beautiful – that describes the summer blooming crinum lily. Large fountains of leaves erupt from the ground in early spring from large bulbs. After a summer rain, long stalks emerge, topped with fragrant clusters of flowers. There are several species and many varieties of crinums, but most flowers range from pure white, to pink, to shades of rose. Some crinums are white with dark rosy pink stripes, giving rise to another common name “milk and wine lilies”.
There are usually a dozen or more flowers per stalk, and often several stalks will emerge on older plants.
Another common name for crinums is cemetery lilies, as they are often planted in country cemeteries, marking the burial site of a loved one. Crinums are extra-hardy plants, tolerating prolonged dry periods, only to pop out another stalk of flowers after a drought-breaking rain. However, they also tolerate boggy soils, too.
As I said, the bulbs can get big, very big, and they have a habit of pulling themselves deeper into the soil every year, which accounts for their ability to survive drought. But, that also makes them a challenge to dig up. If you don’t get underneath the base of the bulb, you end up cutting off the top which will not grow. I have dug bulbs that were over 2 feet deep.
Crinums produce offsets which are smaller bulbs around the base of the main bulb. Over the years, a clump can have dozens of bulbs, which makes them ideal candidates for sharing with neighbors and friends. It does not hurt to dig and divide crinums, though flowering tends to be heavier on undisturbed plants. Crinums are true pass-along plants.
Due to their slow growth, crinums are more expensive than other types of bulbs, but they are an excellent investment. They don’t have to be replaced every year, they provide a permanent feature in your garden, bloom several times during the summer, many are quite fragrant, make great cut flowers, and you can plant them and walk away, being confident they will grow, and not only just survive, but thrive, regardless of the environment. Just give them plenty of room to grow! The fountain of foliage can easily get 3 to 4 feet wide!
Rain Lilies. This is a wonderful group of what some refer to as minor bulbs, but I think they make a major impact in the summer landscape! The two most common rain lilies are the white and pink rain lilies. The common white rain lily (Zephyranthes candida) has very attractive dark green, round, rush-like leaves. They make a nice semi-evergreen border plant, though the foliage somewhat declines in the winter. Shortly after a summer rain, the thick clump of bulbs burst with large, pure white stars, made even more attractive against the dark green leaves. They are very hardy, and multiply rapidly by division, making it easy to have a very nice display within just a couple of years.
Zephyranthes grandiflora has rosy pink flowers, and like the white rain lily, shoots forth pink flowers after a summer rain. Its leaves are flat and kind of bluish-green. While they also produce offset bulbs, unlike the white rain lily which seems to be sterile, the pink rain lily produces lots of seed. These are quite fertile, and it won’t be long before you have pink rain lilies popping up here and there throughout the summer after each welcome rain.
There are many more rain lilies, including a native yellowish-cooper rain lily that pops up just once in the summer after a rain. One of the best places to see these is along the Glenwood Street boulevard between Front Street and West Ewrin. They don’t last long, but the banks become covered in yellow for a couple of days. These are best propagated by seed.
Because rain lilies are small-statured plants, they are best used near the front of the garden bed where they can be more easily seen and enjoyed.
Achemines. Large violet flowers on trailing plants with dark green fuzzy leaves. This describes a delightful member of the gesneriad family, related to African violets and gloxinias. Achimenes, also called orchid pansies, are native to Mexico and Central America. I’ve known them as a great houseplant, but never dreamed that any could be hardy. But, a Men’s Garden Club member shared some of the tiny, scaly rhizomes with me one spring several years ago, and I have enjoyed growing them in my landscape ever since.
These shade loving plants are slow to emerge in spring, but once they get going, they bear a succession of beautiful violet flowers all summer until first freeze. Most varieties are not hardy, but this one seems to defy the norm. They make great basket plants, and are delightful tucked here and there in nooks in the landscape.
Formosa or Philippine Lily. This beautiful summer-blooming lily looks like an Easter Lily on steroids. It produces very tall shoots, which in late July and early August bear clusters of large, white showy flowers on top of the stems, sometimes reaching 6 feet tall. They make an exciting statement in the mid-summer garden, and continue to be interesting after the flowers fade as the upturned seedpods dry, looking kind of like candelabra. Depending on your flower bed design, the resulting numerous seedlings can be considered either a nuisance or a welcome addition for a cottage garden effect.
Crinums, rain lilies and Philippine lilies can all be conveniently seen in the IDEA Garden, Heritage Garden and other areas in the Tyler Rose Garden. And crinums and rain lilies will be offered at the October 13 plant sale, sponsored by Smith County Master Gardeners.