Crinum 'White Queen'

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Nope, not an Easter Lily.  This is the best of the crinum lilies, 'White Queen'.  Crinums are ever-present worldwide wherever they're hardy—from Zone 7 to the Equator.  And they live as long as any peony, and with just as little care.  But crinums in New England?  That's uncommon.  And with these astonishing flowers?  I'd say that 'White Queen' could be my mascot.

 

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The pointy tips of the trumpets curl back more and more as they mature; there are many hundreds of crinums, but only 'White Queen' has the gift. 

 

How can it be that I've never smelled the flowers?  Then again, what is the protocol for sticking your nose up the skirt of a queen?  Respectful photography from ten feet away, I now realize, has been my humble role.

 

Here's how to grow this crinum lily:

 

Latin Name

Crinum 'White Queen'

Common Name

'White Queen' crinum lily

Family

Amaryllidaceae, the Amaryllis family.

What kind of plant is it?

Perennial bulb.

Hardiness

Zones 6 - 11

Habit

Dense heavy rosettes of strap-like leaves, like giant daylilies.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

A colony four to five feet wide and (in bloom) three feet tall.

Texture

Heavy and coarse:  The leaves are no more entertaining than those of amaryllis or daylily. 

Grown for

the flowers.  Large pure-white pointed buds are at the top of thick, tall, leafless green stems that arise from the base of the clump.  They open successively into white Easter Lily trumpets with pointed rolled-back edges.  But there's more: Each flower then becomes pendant, even while remaining in perfect condition.  The "roll-back" of the pointed blossom tips intensifies with greater pendancy; fully pendant flowers are the most exciting of all.

Flowering season

Mine begins promptly in late Spring, and sometimes reblooms over the Summer.

Culture

Crinums are famously thick-skinned, tolerating almost any amount of neglect, heat, and drought, yet still persisting, even flowering.  Their massive amaryllis-on-steroids bulbs and thick, deeply penetrating roots are a couple of reasons why.  But a "persisting" crinum doesn't mean an attractive one: the subtropics and tropics worldwide are dotted with huge old crinum clumps that are bedraggled, if happily blooming, messes.  Removing the old leaves will do wonders. 

 

'White Queen' tops everyone's list of Best Crinums Ever, and its reliable blooming and, for a crinum, exceptional hardiness, make it the natural first one to try.  If you garden in Zone 7 and South, crinums are as deathless as peonies and lilacs up North; clumps long outlive the buildings of abandoned properties.  Just plant in decent soil and put the clumps in your will.  Full sun, but tolerates some shade.

How to handle it

At the colder end of its hardiness—down into Zone 6—having any crinums established as in-ground garden plants is a feat.  'White Queen' is billed as Zone 6, but I'm still chicken to plant it out.  When I do, my pair will be in one of my beds that enhance Winter hardiness the best, with the rich soil mounded well above the surrounding pathways for fantastic Winter drainage, and with heavy mulch and plenty of crossed fingers after frost has killed the foliage back each Fall.

 

Until then, they stay in large pots that each May get sunk up to the rims in that same bed.  The clumps root out the bottom into the wider bed, so the plants can soon look after themselves. 

 

The hardier crinums are hardier, in part, because they can let themselves go deciduous in cold weather and retreat to ground level (or, thanks to heavy mulch, safely below ground).  In short, they can hunker down until the easy weather returns.  My pots of 'White Queen' snooze, leafless, under the greenhouse bench all Winter, without water, sprouting of their own accord in mid-April.  They need careful handling during the transition out into the garden bed: They can be in bud already.

 

Some crinums spread rambunctiously into loose colonies, but the "normal" ones that grow to thick clumps typically don't want or appreciate division or disturbance when growing directly in the ground.  Think peonies:  They tolerate being lifted and divided, but will usually punish you by not blooming for a year afterwards.

 

'White Queen' thrives even in a comparatively "small" five-gallon nursery pot.  But more is definitely more: I'll repot next March in hopes of larger plants and additional flower stalks.

 

Like all the amaryllis tribe, no critters bother crinum bulbs or foliage.  So make friends with crinums, all of you who garden amid deer, voles, groundhogs, and raccoons.

Downsides

For these flowers, lugging the pots into shelter and then back out to the garden is the least I can do.  But it's lugging all the same.  Given how boring the foliage is, it sure would be nice if 'White Queen' could learn from, say, the brugmansias, whose large foliage is only forgivable because of the foot-long pendant flowers that appear almost monthly.  And not just a few, either.  In waves.

Variants

With nearly 200 species, and probably that many additional hybrids and cultivars, crinums are a big rabbit hole to fall into.  (I'm at seven and counting.)  Some are strictly aquatic, others are amazingly drought-tolerant, thriving in Florida sand.  Some grow from suitcase-sized bulbs with thigh-thick above-ground necks, almost like short trunks.  Some have foliage that's purple-blushed, dark purple, or variously green-and-white striped.  The flowers themselves range from pure white to all possible shades of pink, sometimes striped with white, to a mid-rose. 

 

The largest (and therefore the most tender) species can have leaves five feet long, "trunks" three feet tall, and individual flowers eight inches across.  One of those, 'Queen Emma', does all of that and has purple foliage.  Of course, I had to have my own.

Availability

On-line, at specialty retailers at the margins of their hardiness and,

in their subtropical and tropical heartland, at Home Depot.

Propagation

Only occasionally by division of the offsets: 'White Queen' doesn't often produce small "pups."  Tissue culture is how 'White Queen' is produced for the nursery trade.

Native habitat

'White Queen' was developed by Luther Burbank early in the 20th century, in California.

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