Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cardiocrinum giganteum - Giant Himalayan Lily

Cardiocrinum giganteum - Giant Himalayan Lily, Giant Yunnan Lily, Giant Lily

This is one of the largest lilies in the world and one of the most spectacular when grown en mass. It is a woodland plant from the Himalayas and grows very successfully in New Zealand. The largest naturalised area is at Mt Peel Station homestead near Geraldine. Large groupings can be established where bulbs of all ages produce a regular cycle of blooming plants each year.

It prefers partial shade and deep rich moist soil. The very large bulbs should not be planted to deep but rather just under the surface of the soil. When established the bulb sits with part of the bulb out of the ground. The bulb consists of just a few highly succulent bulb scales. It may obtain a diameter of about 20 cm. Plants are fully hardy and adore light shade, humidity and rich, leafy soils. Prepare soil well in advance with plenty of humus, leaf mould, manure and bark to get the best from them.

The large, tall, 50mm thick, stately flower spike can easily reach 3 metres in height and carry up to 40 pendulous trumpet shaped flowers. The flowers are a creamy yellow white with maroon/claret stripe and markings at the base of the flower in the throat and have a lovely vanilla scent. Flowering in December in New Zealand they are held well above the green foliage which often has a bronze/purple tinge in sunnier situations. A showstopper.

The middle flowers of the raceme open first. The buds are oriented perpendicular to the stem in an upright position on the raceme while the flowers are forming but later as they open they change to become hanging. After flowering the fruit stalk increases in length and bend upwards again to a position similar to that of the buds carrying the rounded upright seed pods. The seed is viable and will produce more young plants. 

The bulb that flowered dies soon after setting the next crop of seed. Flowering is continued by the new young bulbs growing as offsets. The leaves are very large, heart shaped, bright green and glossy arranged around the bulb and up the stem. The foliage may take on a purplish hew in sunnier dryer locations.

Planting the bulbs in groups is one way to get a longer flowering period as the flowers do not last a long time. Additionally once flowered the bulb dies (it is monocarpic) as it has used up all its energy and the offsets around it grow to flower in future years. Therefore a series of bulbs of different ages ensures some will flower each year.

The flowers produce enormous toothed seed-pods when dried and grows very well from seed collected in New Zealand. It will take more than five years for the bulbs to flower from seed. Small offsets on the side of the bulbs can be removed, planted  up to 80cm apart and easily grown in good soil in light shade. They may flower in three years. Planting in successive years or in different sizes ensures a cycle of flowering. 

If growing from seed sow as soon as possible indoors and outdoors at any time of year. Keep the seeds in the fridge until you are ready to sow. Sow seeds in a pot of peaty compost at a depth of around 2mm and cover them with fine gravel or grit. The gravel holds the seeds in place and keeps the moisture at the soil surface. 

Put in a cool dark place. Artificial heat is not needed and in some cases will prevent the seeds from germinating. Germination can be very slow, the seeds often need two periods of cold moist conditions with a warm growing period in between. The seeds should germinate in spring but may germinate in their second year, so patience is needed. Keep the compost moist at all times and, if needed clean the tray, replacing the grit in the second year. 

Allow the seedlings to grow in a shaded place and protect them over the following winter. The new plants can be put into the garden in spring.

In the autumn when you remove the dead stem and the seedpods, separate the bulblets and replant them in a permanent location (70 to 90cm apart). The bulbs need to be separated and spread out to prevent overcrowding to ensure that each achieves its maximum growth potential. They will bloom in three to five years. From one bulb you can eventually get a sizeable group of plants. 

Woodland settings are ideal. These lilies need a shady location where direct sun will not sunburn their leaves. Filtered shade works if the roots are protected with mulch. Hot summer temperatures may cause die-out. Bulbs are hardy with winter mulch. Larger trees and shrubs also protects them from strong winds that might break their flowering stems or knock them over.

Soil should be loose and moisture-retentive but well-drained and rich in nutrients. Standing water rots the bulbs. As they are heavy feeders, give them lots of compost and leaf mould and supplement this with slow release organic fertiliser in spring. Where possible, site them where they can be viewed from a distance as a group rising from a low border. Since their leaves are not attractive in late summer and autumn (slug damage), keep them away from the front of the beds. Woodland ground covers help hide decaying foliage. 

Combine Cardiocrinum with companions that like similar conditions. Rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and hydrangeas are good backgrounds. Also, true lilies, astilbes and primulas. Once the bulbs have become established and begin to enlarge, cardiocrinums resent being moved. If moved, they tend to become stunted, so pick the right spot the first time.

Garden snails eat the young growing leaves and small holes will turn into large holes when the leaves are mature. Snails can be kept away from the young leaves with a ring of garlic-paste around the base of the plant or use organic slug bait.

Botanically there are two varieties of  Cardiocrinum giganteum noted in the Flora of China 
C. giganteum var. giganteum which grows to 3 metres tall, has the outer part of the flower greenish and the inside streaked with purple, and
C. giganteum var. yunnanense which is shorter, and has the outer part of the flower white and the inside streaked with purplish red

It is C. giganteum var. giganteum that is most commonly cultivated.

Cardiocrinum is a small genus in the lily family (Liliaceae). Though closely related to true lilies (Lilium), one distinguishing feature separating the genus Cardiocrinum from the genus of true lilies is its notable wide heart-shaped leaves with branched veins (true lilies have strap-shaped leaves). The large leaves of Cardiocrinum give rise to its genus name. It derives from the Greek words kardio for heart and krinum for lily - meaning 'heart lily’.

There are three species of the genus Cardiocrinum grown in cultivation and can be found for sale - Cardiocrinum cordatum, C. giganteum and C. cathayanum.

C. giganteum was first described scientifically by Nathaniel Wallich in Nepal and was introduced into commercial production (as Lilium giganteum) in Britain in the 1850s. A bulb grown from seed collected by Major Madden flowered in Edinburgh in July 1852, while those collected by Thomas Lobb were first exhibited in flower in May 1853. 

It originates from forest floors in the Himalayas of India, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, China and Myanmar (Burma).

Cardiocrinum giganteum is a fantastic plant in all respects, but they are a long term project but need little effort and maintenance other than pricking out from germinating and potting on. This rare beauty is well worth the wait.

References From the Web.

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