The genus Nerine in the Amaryllis Family (Amaryllidaceae) is endemic to southern Africa. They belong to the tribe Amaryllideae, and Nerines are related to Brunsvigia and less closely to Crinum 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 Nerine is made up of small to medium sized bulbous plants, and there are 20 to 30 species in South Africa. Most occur in the summer-rainfall areas, from the Eastern Cape Province north and eastward. They are considered to be tender, and outside their native territories they must be grown in pots.
The bigeneric hybrid between Brunsvigia and Nerine is called Brunserine. Some Nerine species are confused with Brunsvigia, or perhaps vice versa. Indeed, there has been confusion between Crinum, Ammocahris, Brunsvigia, and Nerine for a few species in this group.
Outside of their native habitats, nerines are best grown in pots. When in active growth, they need full sun to light shade for good flowering. Pot in a somewhat gritty mix that allows good drainage but which will protect the bulb from excessive dehydration during its dry dormant period.
An interesting aspect of the culture of nerines is that many of the species do not need much fertilizer. Hybrids involving N. sarniensis and N. bowdenii in particular may show signs of something like a virus infection if fertilized too much. See also Sir Peter Smithers' notes on culture.
Nerine bowdenii is native to the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg and Eastern Cape Province. It is a summer-growing species which flowers in the autumn and is deciduous in winter. The large, 2-inch pink flowers are borne in an umbel of up to 10 blossoms atop a scape 12 to 25 inches tall. There are also occasional white-flowered forms. Its frost-hardiness stems from the fact that it grows at up to 10,000 ft. elevation in parts of the Drakensberg. Cultivar 'Pink Triumph' has flowers 3 inches across.
Nerine krigei is native to the southeastern Transvaal (Mpumalanga) and northeastern Orange Free State in South Africa. It is characterized by the spiral twist to its leaves. The 2-inch flowers are produced in summer, in contrast to the tendency of most other Nerine species to bloom in autumn. Scapes are about 1 to 2 ft. tall. Note the dark green or rose midribs which show up nicely against the light pink petals. The filaments of the stamens recurve nearly 180°. While most Nerine varieties produce many offsets but do not bloom every year, N. krigei produces few offsets but blooms faithfully every season, if given its required period of chilling during the preceding winter. Deciduous and summer growing.
Photo courtesy of Dennis Wilson
Nerine undulata is a wild species from the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa. It is summer-growing and blooms in the autumn, late October for me. There are several pale pink, 1-inch flowers in an umbel; the scape grows up to 18 inches tall, but 9 to 10 inches is more common in my greenhouse. The flowers have crinkled or "crispulate" edges. The foliage is nearly evergreen: The old leaves yellow off just before the bulb flowers, and the new leaves appear shortly thereafter. This species seems to be easy in cultivation, and it should definitely be more widely available; blooms in as little as 2 years from seed.
[More Nerine species] [List of Nerine species]
Sir Peter Smithers spent many years hybridizing nerines. His collection was transferred to the Rothschild estate in England when he retired from active hybridizing. He has kindly allowed us to show some of his work here.
Kirstenbosch Gardening Series: Grow Nerines, by Graham Duncan, pub. by National Botanical Institute, Kirstenbosch, Private Bag X7, Claremont 7735, South Africa.
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).
"Nerines in Southern Africa", by Rachel Saunders, in HERBERTIA, vol. 52, p. 88 (1997).
Cape Bulbs, by Richard L. Doutt, Timber Press (1994).
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).