Crinum moorei Hook. f.

Flowering now in my garden, Crinum moorei has enchanted gardeners for many years. This year my forest specimens are looking splendid as they were spared any attacks of the dreaded Amaryllis borer. These regal plants add interest and stature to any light shady position in the garden.

It is one of the larger members of the world-wide tropical to temperate ornamental lily family, Amaryllidaceae. The family includes the European narcissi and daffodils but also gardeners’ favourites from southern Africa such as Amaryllis, Haemanthus, Scadoxus, Clivia, Brunsvigia, Boophone and Cyrtanthus.

Crinum moorei, the Natal lily, is a geophyte, a perennial growing annual leaves and flowers from a large underground bulb of about 19 cm in diameter. The bulb attenuates on top into a long, stem-like neck usually exposed above-ground. The bulbs multiply to form clumps.

The soft, bright to dark green leaves have distinct midribs and slightly wavy margins. The leaves grow in a rosette; they narrow to both tip and base. Leaf dimensions are from 65 cm to 1,5 m long by 6 cm to 12 cm wide.

The distribution is mostly coastal in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. The plants are often found in large stands in their damp, marshy habitat of forest shade near the coast and along watercourses. The plant may become dormant in excessive summer heat.

Geoff Nichols (2002) has identified three flowering forms based on his personal experience in the field:

Port St Johns (Eastern Cape) form: pink flowers produced in September to October.
Oribi Gorge/Krantzkloof (KwaZulu-Natal south coast) form: white suffused with pink flowers in late December.
Mtunzini/Ngoye/Ngome (KwaZulu-Natal north coast, Zululand) form: white flowers produced in November.

Inez Verdoorn (1961) said that in both Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal the bulbs vary considerably in size and also in the colouring of the flowers, which range from white to white suffused with pink.

This least common of South African Crinum species is considered vulnerable in habitat early in the twenty first century, its population decreasing mainly due to harvesting for the traditional medicine trade (Pooley, 1998; Manning, 2009; Duncan, 2010; www.redlist.sanbi.org).

Description

The large bulb (up to 200 mm in diameter) of Crinum moorei rests just under the surface of the soil but has a an elongate neck which protrudes a further 200-300 mm above ground. The long, flat, dark green leaves (up to 1 m long and about 200 mm wide), emerge in a rosette from the neck which also produces a long flowering stalk in summer of 1.2 m or more, topped by 5-10 large, open, white to pale pink flowers.

According to the Red List of South African PlantsCrinum moorei is Vulnerable (VU). Its wild population is decreasing, and has declined by at least 20% over the past 70 years. This decline is caused by harvesting of the bulbs for the traditional medicine plant trade, and due to infestations of the Amaryllis Borer (Brithys crini). Crinum moorei is the least common of all the Crinum species and is not often seen in the wild.

Crinum moorei is found in large colonies in damp, marshy areas in the shade. Bulbs collected from Port St Johns by Dr L.E. Codd (Verdoorn 1961) were found on the margin of a patch of coastal forest in heavy black soil near water. Flower scent appears stronger in the evenings (Nichols 2002), suggesting an evening moth pollinator.

Derivation of name and historical aspects

Crinum moorei was described by 19th century botanist, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, while he was director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in London. According to Verdoorn (1961) his description was based on plants grown by Dr D. Moore, after whom he named it. Dr Moore, director of the Glasnevin Botanical Gardens in Dublin, received the seed from a British soldier named Webb who collected it in KwaZulu-Natal during the 1860s.The genus name Crinum is derived from the Greek krinon, meaning ‘lily’. (KRY-num,  KREE-num)

Uses

Pooley (1998) records that C. moorei is used in traditional medicine for urinary tract infections and to treat cattle. Nichols (2002) notes that the bulbs are also used by traditional healers to cleanse the blood, treat infected sores and even acne.

Growing Crinum moorei

Geoff Nichols (2002) warns that these are forest lilies and must be grown in dappled shade as full sun will burn the leaves yellow. The plants should be in light broken shade when leaf production starts at the end of winter.

The plants can be  grown both from bulbs and from the peanut-sized seed. Seed should be sown fresh either where they are to grow or in trays immediately after harvesting, as the seed does not keep well. Bulbs sown from seed will take three to four growing seasons before flowering. Older bulbs being planted out should be well spaced to prevent overcrowding, as they continue to produce new bulbs. The bulbs are dormant in winter, the leaves dying off after flowering. The bulb needs good natural compost or fertilizer, and it needs to be well watered in spring and summer.

The plants, particularly the leaves, are susceptible to damage by the introduced Amaryllis moth caterpillar (Brithys crini).  The herbivorous mole rat also damages the bulbs.

References

  • Nichols, G. 2002. Crinum moorei. Farmer’s Weekly, September 2002: 9.
  • Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers: KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Verdoorn, I.C. 1961. Crinum moorei. The Flowering Plants of Africa 34: t. 1351