Sunday, 10 January 2010

Crinum, so showy and fragrant they border on being obnoxious


But not this one! Crinum Lilies are a well known garden plant, with their large trumpet-shaped flowers arising from a usually large leafy base. The 100 or so Crinum species grow in mostly tropical and subtropical areas around the world, usually near the coast.

There are not many other members of its family Amaryllidaceae native in Australia, but we do grow a lot in our gardens: e.g. daffodils and jonquils (Narcissus), snowdrops (Glananthus), belladonna lily (Amaryllis) and spider lilies (Hymenocallis).

But back to Crinum. The flowers of the Crinum Lily have been described as so showy and fragrant that ‘they border on being obnoxious’.

Our local species, the Swamp Lily (Crinum pedunculatum) is not common but can be found in mostly brackish areas of coastal New South Wales and up into Queensland.

Crinum Lilies are large plants, and Crinum asiaticum is probably the world’s tallest plant that grows from a bulb. The form of this species growing naturally in northern Australia can reach 2 m high.

We have an unusual and rare species in the Royal Botanic Gardens called Crinum mauritianum. As you might guess, it is native to the island of Mauritius. It was thought to be extinct for 150 years then rediscovered on the muddy shores of a leaky reservoir. Apparently the water leaking from the reservoir was all that kept this population alive.

A report in 2004 suggested that it has once again been lost, perhaps now really extinct, due to the building of a new dam in that area. Less than 2% of the original forest of Mauritius survives today and much of their flora is extinct on the brink.

Crinum mauritianum grows readily in the Gardens. It isn’t the biggest Crinum, and it doesn’t have the most ‘obnoxious’ flowers, but it is an important part of our collection of rare and threatened plants.

Image: To avoid showing you even a slightly obnoxious Crinum flower, I've included an image of our Mauritian Crinum - under threat in the wild but secure in Sydney's Botanic Gardens - in leaf. *This post if from the Radio Archives (March 2008).

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