The Bulb Society Newsletter, no. 108 (December, 1961)


Photo by A R. R. Higginson

Variation I

* Curtis Botanical Mag., t. 2133 (1820).

CRINUM FLACCIDUM Herbert* of Australia is described as having white flowers with tepals about three or four inches long and three-fourths of an inch wide at the midpoint. A current survey of the species has disclosed a wide distribution for the plants and the existence of several specific variants. The originally described bulb probably came from the headwaters of the Darling River, as plants growing near Gilgandsa and Quirinda in New South Wales often meet this general description. Some scattered variants have wide tepals and a few are colored a light pink. The bulk of the bulbs grow almost entirely in alluvial silt or overflow areas and are found growing at a depth of 12 to 18 inches, but some wander out into the desert and adopt to drier conditions. The general population area is roughly 250 miles north west of Sydney. The climate is quite dry and very similar to Southern California.

Variation II

** Crinum pedunculatum belongs to the sub-genus Stenaster which has radial symmetry to the blossoms. This species is native to Queensland.

A second distinctive growing area is 300 miles to the south in the Murray River basin in south-eastern South Australia. This particular variant has narrower tepals and the blossoms are a pale cream. These bulbs also grow in alluvial soil and are usually found near water. This variant has erroneously been described in literature as "C. pedunculatum,"** a sub-tropical species. Locally the plant is known as the Murray River Lily.

Variation III

A third form grows in the open desert near the Andamooka opal mines some 300 miles north of Adelade near the western shore of Lake Torrens (a dry salt sink). This group has very long narrow tepals and five or six inch long tepal tubes. The overall coloring of the flowers is a light cream or amber. A mature bulb drives down some 30 inches into the desert sand and reportedly has a twelve foot root system which is rather amazing when one realizes that the bulb itself is rarely three inches in diameter. There is less than six inches of rainfall annually in this area, and almost all of this rain comes in the winter. Flowering occurs in the early spring. To the best of my knowledge no bulbs have been imported.

Variation IV

The final form is nearly unknown. It has a showy open cluster of 10 to 15 blossoms which are a bright yellow, resembling a "Sternbergia lutea" in color and shape. The tepals are considerably wider than the preceding forms and range in colors of citron and green to golden yellow. This unusual form of C. flaccidum which may prove to be a separate species is distributed in extremely isolated colonies over a known distance of 450 miles in an uninhabited, bleak desert region of eroded hills and windswept washes; ranging northerly from Quorn on the Spencer Gulf to Birdsville in West Central Queensland. Like the Andamooka bulb, this plant is typically an arid desert plant. Little rain falls over the entire area. Heavy contractile roots pull the younger bulbs down some 20 to 30 inches into rocky formations where digging is near impossible. Flowering occurs after the winter rains. The plants are deciduous during summer and fall. Seed has been imported and grows with surprising rapidity.

*The inland desert area is a relative recent occurrence. 6000 years back the area was quite moist and covered with vegetation. The wide distribution of the yellow form was by inland fresh water lakes and streams.
Reference: T. R. N. Lothian, Crinum flaccidum, R.H.S. Journal, p. 344, Aug 1957.

Light colored pink variations have been reported in the Spencer Gulf area but have not been collected. The Darling and Murray river forms are definitely unknown in this inland desert area.* Several hundred miles of elevated waste land known as the Gray Hills completely separate the white and yellow variants.

A. R. R. Higginson, David Symon and T. R. N. Lothian have furnished the bulk of the information on the South Australian species. William Morris of New South Wales has provided the information on the Darling River Lily. This is all most timely, as little has been known regarding the habits of C.  flaccidum. Fortunate, indeed, would be those persons who may obtain any of these precious bulbs, but a word of caution is in order here: particular care should be taken not to water the bulbs when first planted, or when transplanted with an established root system. The true desert species will not tolerate wet feet during warm weather. Do not over-water the bulbs.

The yellow colored form promises to be a showy plant, and in all probability the breeders will be crossing it with the red or pink flowered C. bulbispermum in order to obtain orange or bronze flowered hybrids. To our knowledge C. flaccidum has never been used for breeding purposes.


Crinum bulbispermum (Burm.) Milne-Redhead & Schweickerdt, which is native to the Cape Province of the Republic of South Africa, has traveled under a number of names such as C. capense and C. longifolium for eighty years or more. There are quite a number of variants which account for the confusion. The "type form" described by Thunberg is a plant from the interior of the Cape Province having twelve to fifteen trumpet shaped coral pink blossoms marked with dark red keels. This particular form grows in the upper south-eastern headwaters of the Orange River and is adapted to rather hot arid condition. The bulbs drive down some eighteen inches to escape the heat. Growing periods and flowering occurs after rather rare rain storms or flash floods.

These Orange River bulbs which have been imported into England have failed to survive as they could not endure the wet winters. It is only recently that samples were introduced into the U.S.A. by the University of California at Berkeley. These plants are becoming available through seed distribution. This variant rarely produces offsets due to the deep growing habits of the bulbs and often there is no incentive to flower if the winter has been unduly cold or wet. The bulb should grow well in Southern California and needs very little water.

C. bulbispermum alba, the old C. capense alba of yesteryears, has been far more adaptable due to its free flowering, winter hardy characteristics. It can be grown out of doors in England and Maryland and thrives on moisture. Similarly it can grow under subtropical conditions, so much so that it has long been an escape in Costa Rica and India. It has been employed as one parent to effect the hardy white Powelli type of Crinum hybrid. Crinum moorei is the other parent. Similarly bulbispermum alba crosses with a number of other Crinum species and has been given rise to a number of semi-hardy hybrids. The major drawback to the use of bulbispermum alba is the poor flower shape and lack of substance to the petals which often carries over into its hybrids.

A better garden form is C. bulbispermum roseum which is a pale pink-flowered form from the Cape. Roseum is the parent of most deep pink Powellii hybrids such as Pam's Pink and C. x Cecil Houdyshel. The form and texture of the blossoms are usually an improvement over the alba variant. Roseum may not be quite as hardy as alba. It has never been handled by English or Dutch nurseries and for that reason is not widely distributed. It is an ideal plant for Southern California.

Several years back the writer had the opportunity to cross the Orange River red form with both alba and roseum. The resulting intra-specific seedlings have been quite vigorous and rather varied in colors; the F-2 generation promises to be particularly diversified in form and color. It is hoped that improved flower forms can be segregated shortly. Crosses between these intra-specific hybrids and bulbs such as C. moorei or C. x burbankii give promise of new Powelli forms and large flowered open umbel hybrids like the writer's 'Cape Dawn.' This latter series is of particular interest as the new hybrids are often "show plants" for the garden. One would never suspect that the parentages involved could produce such color or size of blossoms.

Current work in treating Crinum seedlings with colchicine, or other mutagenic agents which double the chromosomes, has given rise to a number of polyploid forms. The initial plants show unusual vigor but so little is known concerning polyploid Crinum that the extent of the improvements cannot be properly evaluated. The most hopeful objective is that we can break the pronounced extent of sterility which has plagued Crinum breeding. It would open up a wonderful field of hybrids. — Les Hannibal.


This species is native to Queensland and New South Wales. It is coastal in habit and adapted to summer rainfall conditions. The bulb often grows upon the surface of the ground. The plant can best be described as resembling a small Crinum Asiaticum, even to the extent that the bulb splits down the middle forming two bulbs every few years in lieu of throwing offsets. The type is described as having 20 to 30 blossoms to a scape, but some forms carry more than a hundred blossoms to an umbel.

For some reason the bulb has long been confused with C. flaccidum forms which grow along the Murray River, but the latter has 10 to 14 blossoms with long curved tepal tubes and declinate filaments whereas the C. pedunculatum has short straight tepal tubes, radially symmetrical petals and spreading anthers. L. H.

A Check List of Australian Crinum

A. Subgenus STENASTER — radial symmetry, segments linear, stamens spreading,

1. Crlnum douglasii Bailey: Queensland Flora Bull. 4: 27. 1890, Native to Thursday Island. Differs from C. asiaticum by a columnar scape.

2. C. pedunculatum, R. Br. Prodr. 297; Ker in Bot. Reg. Plate 52. Native to Queensland along the Brisbane river.

B. Subgenus PLATYASTER — radial symmetry, segments lanceolate, stamens spreading.

3. C. brevistylum Bailey: Queensland Agr. Bull. 2: 197-198, 1898. Native to Turtle Island, Queensland. Resembles C. brachyandrum Herbert.

4. C. venosum, R. Br. Prodr. 1:297, Baker p. 83, 1888. Native to tropical Australia, similar to Angustifolium.

5. C. uniflorum, Muell. Fragm. 3:23; Baker p. 83. 1888. Native to North Australia in sandy flats.

6. C. angustifolium, R. Br. Prod. 1:297: Baker p. 83, 1888. North Australia, resembles a narrow leaf C. asiaticum: Bailey, Queensland Agr. Jour. 4:47-48, 1899.

7. C. brisbanicum, Bailey, Queensland Agr. Jour. 4:47-48, 1899. Native to Brisbane River, Queensland.

8. C. pestilentis Bailey, Queensland Agr. Jour. 2:198, 1898. Native to Bulloo River, Queensland. Odor sickening, resembles C. angustifolium. Has been confused with C. flaccidum.

C. Subgenus CODONOCRINUM — bilateral symmetry, tube curved, segments oblong, stamens declinate.

9. C. brachynema Herbert, Bot. Reg. Plate 1842 Misc. No. 28. Native to north coast and Bombay.

10. C. flaccidum Herbert, Bot. Mag. Plate 2133. See report in this issue of Newsletter.

In addition to the above species we have reports of two new Crinum being found in eastern Queensland, one which has practically no bulb but an immense root system like a Clivia. These species are tropical, but it is hoped that examples can be obtained for the Los Angeles arboretum where the plants can he grown under humid conditions.