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Bulbs of the World

The Amaryllis Family: Genus Crinum

The genus Crinum is in the Amaryllis Family (Amaryllidaceae) and is centered in southern Africa. They belong to the tribe Amaryllideae, and Crinum are related to Brunsvigia, Nerine, Boophone, and Amaryllis (the Cape Belladonna), all in the same tribe. They are herbaceous perennial bulbs. The flowers are borne in an umbel, a cluster at the top of the peduncle or stalk.

The genus Crinum occurs around the world in tropical and subtropical regions. Its occurrence even on isolated oceanic islands can be attriuted to its seeds. They are large and fleshy, they are resistant to salt water, and they float. None the less, their origin almost certainly goes back to Africa. There is a great diversity in the varieties of crinum found on that continent. All their closest relatives are native to Africa.

Crinums are related to Amaryllis belladonna, the Cape Belladonna, as well as to Ammocharis, Brunsvigia and Nerine. The bigeneric hybrid between Crinum and Amaryllis has been made and is called x-Amarcrinum. The bigeneric hybrid with Brunsvigia is called x-Amarygia.

They are for the most part very large bulbous plants. A blooming size crinum will often have a bulb 3 to 4 inches in diameter. The bulbs can become huge in established plants, old specimens reaching a diameter of well over 6 inches. Dwarf crinums are rare.


If you live in a tropical or subtropical climate, simply plant the bulb in the ground and stand back! Crinums do well as garden plants in the US in USDA hardiness zones 8, 9, and 10. They should be planted in full sun or at most in light shade. Some are evergreen, especially C. asiatica and its relatives. A few, like the US native species, C. americanum, need to grow in streams, swamps or bogs. Outside the tropics, we can still grow crinums in containers. These containers should be appropriate to the ultimate size of a mature crinum bulb. Dr. D. J. Lehmiller recommended in HERBERTIA (1996) that one use a clay pot 18 to 20 inches in diameter and as deep as possible for plants like C. bulbispermum. Although crinums may be found growing in heavy clay in some of their native habitats, they should not be grown in clay soils in containers. Most types of crinum should also probably not be grown in clay in the ground in the Northern Hemisphere.

Crinum bulbispermum (Orange River Lily) is native to the Free State, northern Namaqualand and Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces in South Africa, and also is found in Lesotho. It is a large, summer-growing plant; the deciduous foliage is glaucous. The flowers appear in spring and summer; they are white or very light pink, with pink to red bands on the outside. Anthers are never black. Fruits are not beaked. Tolerates water well. Somewhat hardy in USDA zone 5 in a protected location. It is one of the parents of the hardy crinum hybrid, C. x-powellii, which is found in gardens all over the Southeastern United States.

Crinum moorei Crinum moorei is an unusual crinum in that it grows in shady areas. It is native to KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa. The individual flowers in the umbel open successively, so one does not see an umbel full of fresh, open flowers. The plant is one of the parents of the common Crinum x-powellii of Southern gardens. The specimen shown is pink but a more common color for moorei flowers is white.

Crinum lugardiae Crinum lugardiae potted plant Crinum lugardiae (Veld Lily) is an uncommon species. It is found from KwaZulu-Natal to Namibia; the plants from Namibia are noticeably smaller than those from KZN. The bulbs are small, blooming at under 2 inches in diameter. The flowers themselves are 3 to 3½ inches across and about 5 to 6 inches in length. The plant's natural habitat is often a seasonally wet or flooded area such as a river bank or flood plain. The specimen shown has rather less than usual of the rose pink band of shading along the midrib on the outside of the tepal. Under the cream colored pollen, the anthers are black. In Indiana, where it must be over-wintered indoors, this species blooms in June. It is a semi-dwarf plant, the mature bulbs being much smaller than for other species such as C. bulbispermum or C. graminicola.

Crinum macowanii close-up Crinum macowanii Crinum macowanii (Cape Coast Lily) is found in southern Africa in Namibia, Zambia, Swaziland, and Botswana as well as in South Africa provinces of Mpumalanga, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, and Eastern Cape. This species is summer growing and loses its leaves in winter. The large flowers appear in summer; they are nearly white inside and have pink bands on the outside. Under the cream colored pollen, the anthers are black. The fruits are usually beaked. This species blooms in late June in Indiana, where it must be over-wintered indoors.

Crinum graminicola flower face-on Crinum graminicola flowers in profile Crinum graminicola (Grass Lily) is from the High Veld of South Africa. This species is sometimes considered synonymous with C. delagoense, more properly known as C. stuhlmannii. While C. delagoense or stuhlmannii ranges in lower grasslands over much of the eastern coast of southern Africa, C. graminicola is the High Veld form. It is summer growing. Its deciduous foliage is characterized by broad, bright green leaves that arch lowly. The trumpet-shaped flower is very long, about 17 cm (7 inches). The vivid rose-red bands are prominent on both the outside and the inside of the petals and sepals. The flowers are 70 to 80 mm across the face (ca. 3 inches). Under the cream-colored pollen, the anthers are also cream. The large fruits, up to 70 mm in diameter, are beaked. Blooms in July or August in Indiana, where it must be over-wintered indoors.

For a natural hybrid of delagoense and acuale, see: See more information on this topic

Crinum variabile (c) copyrigth 2003 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved. Crinum variabile is from Namaqualand in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. It is evergreen in habitat but deciduous in cultivation. It is winter-growing in its native areas, since that is when it receives rain. In cultivation, it appears to be opportunistic, growing whenever it receives sufficient moisture. Bulbs of this species have proved to be hardy outdoors in USDA zone 5, if given a heavy mulch or a very protected location. In Indiana, it grows in summer and blooms in late summer. In nature, they bloom in mid-summer to early autumn with pink flowers; it is said to flower only erratically in cultivation. For us it does not flower at all when grown in containers, but survives winters (under heavy mulch) and flowers in summer when grown in the ground here in central Indiana (USA).

Notes on other species of Crinum.
Checklist of Crinum species of Africa and Madagascar.
Notes on crinum hybrids.

Where to buy Crinums: See more information on this topic

Other Sources of Information

RHS Manual of Bulbs, John Bryan and Mark Griffiths, Eds., Timber Press (1995).
Bulbous Plants of Southern Africa, by Neil du Plessis and Graham Duncan, Tafelberg Pub. Ltd., Cape Town (1989).
Bulbs for Warm Climates, by Thad M. Howard, University of Texas Press, Austin (2001).
Bulbs, Revised Edition, by John E. Bryan, Timber Press, Portland (2002).
The Color Encyclopedia of Cape Bulbs, John Manning, Peter Goldblatt, and Dee Snijman, Timber Press, Portland (2002).
Crinums in East Texas: Notes from Marcelle Sheppard
David Fenwick's African Gardens:
"Indigenous Crinum of Namibia" by David Lehmiller, HERBERTIA 48, pp. 32-38 (1992).
"Additional Notes on Namibian Crinum" by David Lehmiller, HERBERTIA 48, pp. 75-85 (1992).
"The Genus Crinum in Southern Africa" by I.C. Verdoorn, BOTHALIA 11, pp. 27-52 (1973).
"Crinum acaule, C. minimum, and C. parvibulbosum in Southern Africa" by Robert H. Archer, HERBERTIA 52, pp. 90-94 (1997).
"Synopsis of the Genus Crinum (Amaryllidaceae) in Namibia" by David Lehmiller, HERBERTIA 52, pp. 44-65 (1997).
"Crinum Subgenus Codocrinum in Southern Tchad and Extreme Northern Cameroun" by David Lehmiller, HERBERTIA 52, pp. 119-133 (1997).
"Crinum, Family Amaryllidaceae" by Robert H. Archer, National Herbarium, Pretoria, South Africa, 2004.
Al Sisk's Crinum web site

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James E. Shields,
Last revised: 22 July 2013
© Copyright 2013 by James E. Shields. All rights reserved.