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Fireworks of Color

southern bulbs, flower bulbs, tropical bulbs


The Milk and Wine Crinum Lily is a breathtaking and impressive summer bulb. It stands up to three feet tall with giant straps of foliage and huge, fragrant flowers dancing above tall stems. It has a great, tropical look. The emerging buds are striped and swirled as if red wine has been stirred gently into heavy cream. The open blooms start in late summer. The larger, more mature bulbs produce a striking group of flower stems.

Each spring, when the foliage first emerges, animals (maybe a deer?) nip to sip the tips of the leaves of my Milk and Wine, and then regret it. It is toxic. The creatures soon decide against a full meal, and the plant recovers quickly. The bulbs are huge and carry enough stored energy to keep it alive through just about anything. Planting takes two hands, and digging up old bulbs takes brute strength. They do surprisingly well during drought and occasional adversity. That’s why I think they make a wonderful addition to sunny areas where nothing else seems to grow—the dead zones where we optimistically plant and lose specimens over and over despite careful tilling and soil amendments. It takes a few years for the Milk and Wine Lily to settle in, but once established, you can count on it to survive.

I love the old-fashioned look of this plant. It is at home in a country kitchen dooryard garden setting or a grand mansion. It celebrates the oppressive, muggy heat of late summer with bold stripes and conspicuous stamens. They like plenty of water and bloom best after a heavy rain. Even though it is supposed to be cold hardy to zero degrees, I haven’t seen it growing reliably in areas that go below ten. The longer the Milk and Wine Lilies are allowed to stay in one place, the more magnificent they become, but you can divide the bulblets to start new plants. Plant them where they have room to expand to a three-foot-wide mound.

Crinum x herbertii and other Crinum hybrids were introduced in the early 1800s from Africa. They were very popular in Victorian gardens and have continued to be grown in the south, thanks to the willingness of the pass-along-plant crowd to dig up and share bulbs. If you are looking for plants with bold size and form and able to incorporate them into your garden design in a manner that capitalizes on their tropical splendor without allowing them to disrupt the continuity of your overall plan, Crinum Lilies are an option. Using them is a lot like using large floral prints in fashion. In the right combination with other plants, in the right location where visual focus is needed, in the right artistic line, Crinums can be fabulous! 


Southern Bulbs