Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nerine bowdenii. Cape flower, Guernsey lily, Japanese spider lily

The bright, pink flowers of Nerines always add that little extra in the garden at this time of year when the demise of summer colour is well on its way. Whether it is pink, white or bright orange-red it always is nice to see before the onset of winter.

The genus Nerine, which belongs to the Amaryllidaceae, is made up of small to medium sized bulbous plants. They are all native to South Africa, and there are 20 to 30 species that originate from rock ledges, mountain screes, mountain ledges and other well-drained and arid habitats where the soil is not too rich. Most occur in the summer-rainfall areas, from the Eastern Cape Province north and eastward. In New Zealand they are quite hardy but in England and other countries with tougher winter climates they are considered to be tender and they are grown in pots.

Nerine bowdenii is native to the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg and Eastern Cape Province. It is a summer-growing species which flowers in the autumn and is deciduous in winter. The large, 50mm pink, trumpet shaped flowers are borne in an umbel of up to 10 blossoms atop a scape (stem) 25 to 50cm tall. There are also occasional white-flowered forms. Its frost-hardiness stems from the fact that it grows at up to 3000m. elevation in parts of the Drakensberg.

Nerines are related to Brunsvigia and less closely to Crinum and Amaryllis (the Cape Belladonna). The bigeneric hybrid between Brunsvigia and Nerine is called Brunserine. Some Nerine species are confused with Brunsvigia, or perhaps vice versa.

N. bowdenii is the only contender hardy enough for consideration in cold climates. They resent disturbance and produce their best display of flowers when the bulbs appear to be overcrowded. Resist the temptation to lift and divide clumps of bulbs, as it may be a few years before they produce a vigorous display of flowers.

There isn’t a widely used common name for this genus, but the flowers are so distinct and the botanical name is concise enough for it not to cause a problem. Occasionally, it is referred to as the Guernsey lily as there is evidence that it was, at one time, naturalised in the Channel Islands. Nerine sarniensis, or the Guernsey lily, was named when a ship was wrecked many years ago on Guernsey, the second largest of the Channel Islands, located off the coast of Normandy.  Nerine bulbs washed ashore and took root on the island's sandy beaches.  Because the ship was Japanese, it was originally believed that they were Japanese in origin, hence another of the common names, Japanese spider lily, but they are actually native only to South Africa.

The genus is named from the Greek word Nereis, the name of a sea-nymph. Perhaps a reference to the bulbs that were washed up onto the Channel Islands.

At their best, the long-lasting flowers have an extremely exotic appearance.

N. bowdenii is also suited to growing as a greenhouse bulb, but flowers stems can become elongated and require staking in this situation.

Until recently, pink was the predominant colour, but frenetic hybridising, especially in New Zealand, has produced a wide range of Nerine colours. Flowers are now available in shades of scarlet, magenta, fuchsia, blush pink and orange, and recent introductions include those with grey, white, bicoloured or striped flowers. Although some of those colours may be slightly more subdued than the typical shocking pink Nerines can be relied upon to add an unusual and extroverted dimension to the autumn garden.

An interesting aspect of the culture of nerines is that many of the species do not need much fertilizer. Hybrids involving N. sarniensis and N. bowdenii in particular may show signs of something like a virus infection if fertilized too much.

This robust perennial is one of the best late flowering bulbs.  In the autumn it bears open sprays of five to ten trumpet-shaped, faintly scented, bright pink flowers with curled, wavy-edged petals.  The strap-like, glossy green leaves appear after the flowers, at the base of the plant.  In the garden it is suited to a dry position, at its best where it is bright and sunny where the vivid and distinct flowers can be shown off to their best in May. 

Like many herbaceous perennials and bulbs the foliage is often attacked by slugs and snails but otherwise nerines are generally free from pests and diseases.

Propagate from bulblets by dividing the clumps after flowering, or when in leaf in the spring, or propagate by seed, sowing the seed as soon as it is ripe. Seedlings take three to four years to reach flowering size. 

1 comment:

EvoOrganic said...

Thanks for posting :)