By Christy Jones
Despite their name, crinum lilies are perennial flowers in the Amaryllis family unrelated to true lilies. Their tough seeds spread along waterways, sprouting in marshes, swamps, and seasonally moist areas in zones 8-10. They have trumpet-shaped, showy flowers that protrude from long leafless stalks, called scapes, above a cluster of strappy green leaves.
Crinums are easy to grow and eventually form colonies when grown year-round. Gardeners have shared crinum bulbs for generations, and large colonies grow along old farm roads, ditches, cemeteries, and historical homesteads throughout the southern United States. Flowers last for only a few days, but the scape can continue producing blooms for weeks or even months. Petals can be striped or solid in color, coming in shades of white, pink, and rose-red.
Mercer Botanic Gardens maintains an extensive crinum collection first started by Edith Pearson, who went on plant collecting trips and donated many unusual varieties from her personal collection in the mid-1980s. Marcelle Sheppard, a well-known crinum hybridizer from the Vidor area, known as the “first lady of crinums” in Texas, also donated dozens of cultivars to the Mercer collection in the early 1990s.
Mercer’s collection suffered a significant setback in 2016 and 2017 when historic flooding killed all but a few crinums. After floodwaters subsided, staff members moved several of the unidentifiable lilies to the Ginger and Tropical gardens. Several other crinums swept downstream by floodwaters past Storey Lake now grow along the Primitive Trail Loop.
Mercer’s new collection, one of the most extensive in Texas, includes more than 80 varieties of crinums. Most grow in two large beds near Storey Lake, with others in the Ginger and Tropical gardens. The ‘Rose Parade’ is a fascinating variety featuring 15-18 highly fragrant, burgundy-red flowers that can reach 4 feet tall in midsummer. ‘Stars and Stripes’ has candy cane-like striping on its petals, and the elegant rain-loving ‘Marisco,’ named to commemorate the seafood industry of Veracruz, Mexico, has elegant white petals with a thin, red stripe.
Mercer’s crinums begin blooming in late spring and continue through early autumn. Visit the gardens to view them in person.