Transactions of the Horticultural Society 4: 176-184. (1822)
XXVII. On the Culture of the Guernsey Lily, and other Bulbs of the Genera Nerine,
Coburgia, and Brunsvigia, heretofore  united under Amaryllis, In a Letter to the Secretary.

By the Hon. and Rev. WILLIAM HERBERT, F.H.S. &c.

Read, April 4th, 1820.


*See Flora Japonica, page 131.
*See Horticultural Transactions, vol. iii. page 399

I FIND no difficulty in the culture of the Guernsey Lily, concerning which the Society has desired some information. It is decidedly a native of the Cape, from whence I have received the bulbs dug up in a wild state; and indeed the whole genus Nerine, to which it belongs, appears to be confined to South Africa. I entirely disbelieve its having been found in Japan or China, except in gardens, or naturalized by accident in a congenial climate, It is very likely to have been confounded by THUNBERG with the Asiatic Amaryllis radiata, which I suppose to belong to the genus Lycoris, and which may very probably grow at Nagasaki in Japan, where THUNBERG states that he found the Guernsey Lily growing wild.* The only attention which the Guernsey Lily requires here, is to give it sufficient air while the leaves are growing, that they may be strong and dark coloured; to protect the leaves from frost, keeping the pots near the light, if under glass; to give a moderate and regular supply of water, and to leave the bulbs nearly dry, from the time the leaves decay, that is, about Midsummer, at latest, till the end of August, when the flower buds should appear. If the bulbs are not left dry early in the summer, the autumnal shoot will be delayed, till the season becomes too cold for the proper growth of the flowers or leaves, and the natural course and vigour of the plant will be interrupted, after which it will require at least a year to repair the injury it will have received. Whenever the sprouting of the bulb is tardy, it should be assisted by placing it, for a short time, in a warmer situation. If the stigma does not expand so as to become, after a few days, trifid, it is a sign that the temperature is rather too low, to suit the plant, and the leaves will probably not push freely without more heat. I have obtained seed from the Guernsey Lily; not, however, by placing the bulbs (as Mr. KNIGHT recommends*) in a stove to ripen it, but by procuring the blossom early, in an airy situation. The confined air of the stove probably prevented Mr. KNIGHT'S from ripening their seed.

A good yellow loam, without any manure, will suit Guernsey Lilies very well: but I think they will thrive in any wholesome compost, which does not tend to canker their bulbs: they should be planted partly above ground, for the wet earth round their necks will prevent their flowering or thriving, and will even sometimes destroy them. The old coats about the neck of the bulb, which hold water like a sponge, should be occasionally pulled off.

The prevailing notion that Guernsey Lilies would not flower a second time in this country, has arisen from improper treatment, the bulbs having been either placed without protection out of doors, where the frost will infallibly destroy their leaves, or in a stove, or too far from the light in a green house, where they have grown weakly. It is at the time when the leaves are growing, that a very free admission of air is most necessary, and unless their growth be promoted early in the autumn, this cannot be easily given with a sufficiently high temperature.

By compelling the Gladioli and Ixias, and some of the Oxalises, to delay their shoot (which would naturally be made, in the autumn) till the spring, their habit is inverted, and they are accommodated to our climate out of doors; but I have not yet been able to succeed in so inverting the habits of the Guernsey Lily, though I still suspect that it might be done, by placing the bulbs at a considerable depth in. a dry sunny bank of loam. This, might be tried by plunging the pots, when the bulbs were dry, a foot deep in sand, out of doors,in such a situation, covering the bed with saw-dust, to exclude the frost: but I fear, with this treatment, the flower-buds would be apt to perish in the winter.

* Bot. Mag. 2124.
† Bot. Mag. 294.
‡ Bot. Mag. 1090.
§ Bot. Mag. 725.
|| Bot. Mag. 2124.

I do not think the cultivation of these bulbs upon a large scale, as it is practised in Guernsey, will answer in Great Britain, unless, perhaps, in the south-west of England, on account of the expense attending the protection of the bulbs from frost; they will probably be obtained from Guernsey at a lower price, than the London nurserymen could ever raise them. A frame glazed with oiled paper would probably be the best substitute for glass, and might be a sufficient protection, with the super-addition of mats in very severe weather: the pots, in that case, should he plunged in saw-dust, to preserve them from accidental drought, and the water, especially in still and cloudy weather, should not be given with a rose, which would wet the necks of the bulbs. They should be kept as hot as possible in the summer, when the leaves are withered, giving them, at that time, very little or no water. The same treatment suits the whole of that division of the bulbs, formerly confounded with the Amaryllises, which now forms the genus Nerine,* viz. undulata, humilis, flexuosa, venusta, rosea, corusca, and curvifolia. It is to be regretted that no other species of Nerine is cultivated at Guernsey. The plant known to us under the name of the Guernsey Lily,† is one of the varieties of Nerine venusta,‡ but it is neither so beautiful, nor so free to bloom, as some other species of the same genus. Nerine curvifolia,§ the largest species with fine scarlet flowers and broad glaucous leaves, scarcely ever fails to flower; and Nerine rosea|| is very superior in beauty, and flowers more freely than the Guernsey variety of venusta. The small sort of Nerine venusta, flowers freely, three or four bulbs being placed together in a small pot.

¶ Bot. Mag. 369.

The smallest species, N. undulata,¶ will breed with any of the other species. I have many strong mules from it impregnated by N. curvifolia, which are much larger than the mother plant, with much broader and more glaucous leaves.

The original substance of this letter was written in the autumn of 1818, and was delayed, as you will remember, for the purpose of sending with it the blossom of one of those mules. The buds were chilled, and failed at the end of October, and the same cause, namely their having vegetated too late in 1818, prevented their shewing bloom at all last year.

* See Bot. Mag. p. 2113-4.

The same general observations, as to culture, are applicable to almost the whole of the genus Coburgia,* though Coburgia (Amaryllis) Belladonna is hardier, while some of the others, with whose habits we are less acquainted, perhaps require a little more heat to promote their shoot. The leaves of C. Belladonna are not only hardier, but more willing to delay their full growth till spring, and therefore the bulbs thrive in the open ground; but the consequence is, that unless the summer is hot and dry, the flower stem is delayed too late in the autumn, and perishes, and it will then be thrown out of the ground in a half rotten state, at the time when the leaves sprout vigorously in the spring. I have seen this happen four years successively. Last year, in consequence of the great drought which suspended the vegetation of the Belladonnas early, they flowered with me abundantly in a south aspect, but a bulb which was in an eastern border, and watered, did not flower in the autumn, but threw up its dead blossom in the spring. The object, therefore, in managing those bulbs, should be to promote the early growth and early decay of their leaves. There is no such thing really as a spring variety of Belladonna: such a circumstance depends upon accidental causes, or upon favourable situations, in which the bud has been preserved through the winter, instead of perishing, as it generally does, when delayed too late in the autumn. I am certain of this by experience.

Amaryllis blanda. Bot. Mag. 1450.
* Amaryllis Josephinae. Redoute Lil. 370, — 372. Brunsvigia Josephina B. angustifolia. Bot. Reg. 192, 193.
† Am. pallida. Red. Lil. 470. Am. Belladonna minor. Ker. in Journ. Sc. & A.
‡ Brunsvigia multiflora. Bot. Mag. 1619.
§ Amaryllis reticuata. Bot. Mag. 657. And var. striatifolia. Bot. Mag. 2113, and Bot. Reg. 352. Leopoldia reticulata and striatifolia. Bot. Mag. 2113 p. 5.

Coburgia blanda† is too rare to have been planted out by me, but I find it flowers extremely well if placed in the stove while it is dry; being brought out into the conservatory when in flower, and replaced in the stove to promote the growth of the leaves, till they are about two thirds grown, and then removed again into a green-house, to remain there till they decay. Similar treatment seems to suit Coburgia Josephinae* and C. pallida.† I think the same mode will succeed best with the other sorts, viz. Coburgia multiflora,‡ C. radula, and C. ciliaris: but I have not yet had sufficiently satisfactory experience of their culture, to speak confidently; I believe all of them should be planted in good loam, two thirds of the bulb being under ground; and perhaps with the most delicate sorts, a little sand should be placed in contact with it. Leopoldia reticulata and striatifolia,§ which are two distinct species of a separate genus, approaching to Coburgia in the seed, and to Amaryllis in the flower, require the stove, and will not thrive with much of the bulb above ground. It should be entirely covered with the earth, and the pot should stand in a warm but shady situation, and be plentifully watered. The immediate action of the sun or heated air on the coats of the bulb appears to be injurious to it. Mr. BURCHELL'S Herbarium furnishes specimens of a beautiful unknown Coburgia, with a fine umbel of flowers, apparently rose-coloured, which are produced while the plant has leaves.

* Crinum revolutum, Bot. Mag. p. 2121-5, which is closely allied to the real Brunsvigias, conforms with them in its habits, preferring to be at rest in the winter; it will not thrive well with the bulb above ground, which if so placed, is almost sure to bleed and decay, and perhaps it might succeed best in a favourable situation out of doors; but it is so scarce at present that I cannot try the experiment.

The real Brunsvigias, viz. B. falcata and B. coranica, have a very different habit from those united under the name of Coburgia; their vegetation being, with us, suspended in the winter, and their leaves beginning to sprout in March. Young bulbs of Brunsvigia falcata have lived some years in the open ground with me, close to the east wall of the stove; and I think it will be found, hereafter, to succeed best out of doors in a dry and shady situation in good loam, with sharp sand round the bulb and occasional supplies of water in the summer time. A shady situation, in an airy green-house, under the leaves of Vines, appears to promote its blossom and the ripening of its seeds. I have always found its leaves quickly injured by strong sun and drought. I do not possess B. coranica, but it appears to have exactly the habit as well as the appearance of B. falcata, from which it is not distinguishable by its bulb or leaf: but I believe it flowers more readily.* I keep B. toxicaria in the stove in the winter and in the green-house in the summer, under which treatment its leaves are always growing, but I have not yet flowered it, nor can I say confidently what is the best mode of treating it, nor indeed whether it is really a Brunsvigia or a distinct genus.

The bulbs of Nerine and Coburgia, and indeed almost all bulbs which have a season of rest, should be carefully examined at the commencement of that period. In general, it will be most adviseable to remove all the earth from them, which may be done by careful management, in shaking the ball and pricking it with the point of a knife or stick, without at all injuring the fibres. I do not mean, that it is necessary with the hardiest sorts, such as Nerine undulata, of which there may be many roots in a pot, with their fibres closely matted, or Coburgia Belladonna, to shake the earth entirely from them every year, but when it can be done conveniently the bulbs will be more healthy in consequence. All the dead parts from the neck of the bulb should be pulled off., the dead fibres removed, together with any decayed portion of its base, and its dead integuments should he stripped off, so as to lay bare the first shining coat, and that should be carefully wiped, if it appears clammy or mouldy, which is very often the case. Not unfrequently an extravasation of sap, or a lodgement of wet at the neck of the bulb, will he found to have caused a partial decay of some interior coat, while those without are sound and healthful. After the removal of all that is withered, that secret mischief will become visible, and the sound coats must be cut freely away, for the purpose of removing the internal decay, which would otherwise become fatal. Whenever there is a doubt as to the necessity of removing a coat from a bulb, it should be taken off without hesitation. A short exposure to the air, but not to the sun, will be useful, if the bulbs are either clammy or mouldy. They should be carefully repotted, separating the fibres without straining them, and bringing some of them to the side of the pot, and pouring in the earth (which should be well pulverized and moderately moist, but by no means wet) so as to divide them; for, if they be all squeezed together, or forced into an unnatural posture, they will decay. The bulbs should be left for a while without any water, in a warm and dry situation, to ripen and prepare their blossom: the earth should have just sufficient moisture to promote the growth of the fibres, and prevent their shrivelling. I believe that a moderately strong loam, or a mixture of light and strong loam, where soil of the proper medium is not easily procured, will be found the best, for all the species of Nerine; for Coburgia, especially C. blanda and C. Belladonna, as well as Haemanthus, which requires the same treatment as that recommended for Coburgia blanda, I think a stronger loam desirable, and I consider the use of peat to be dangerous to the bulbs; although they may be found to thrive pretty well in various composts. When the bulbs are repotted, the offsets may be taken from them, and those which are of sufficient strength to flower, may be set apart from the younger stock. Under the treatment recommended for Haemanthus, I do not include H. puniceus and multiflorus, which perhaps form a distinct genus; nor the bulb which has been sometimes called Haemanthus toxicarius, which if it be not a Brunsvigia, will be found, as is most probable, to be a genus by itself.

Amaryllis laticoma Bot. Reg. 497, is the Nerine lucida Bot. Mag. 2124, p. 2, discovered by BURCHELL beyond the Snowy Mountains in South Africa. It is unquestionably a Nerine, but it has leaves which do not perish in the summer, and it seems more disposed to repose in the winter.

I am,
dear Sir,
Your's very faithfully,
March 20, 1820.

Note: According to IPNI

Brunsvigia toxicaria = Buphane disticha
Coburgia ciliaris = Buphane disticha
Coburgia Josephinae = Brunsvigia Josephinae
Coburgia multiflora = Brunsvigia multiflora
Coburgia radula = Brunsvigia Radula
Leopoldia reticulata = Hippeastrum reticulatum
Leopoldia striatifolia = Hippeastrum reticulatum var. striatifolium