The Natal lily, Crinum moorei, with its large, white to
pinkish red, open tubular flowers, literally glows in the dappled
shade of the century-old plane tree avenue in the KwaZulu-Natal
National Botanical Gardens in Pietermaritzburg during midsummer
(October to January).
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. (see the
plant index or search for pages
about these plants)
large bulb (up to 200 mm in diameter) of C. 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.
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.
The light pink flowers illustrating her account in The Flowering
Plants of Africa came from Port St Johns.
C. moorei is found in the South African eastern seaboard
coastal forest from the northern Eastern Cape (Port St Johns area)
in the south to northern KwaZulu-Natal (Mtunzini District). It grows
well in light shade at higher altitudes if protected from frost.
Derivation of name
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 1860's. The genus name Crinum
is derived from the Greek krinon, lily.
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.
Uses and cultural aspects
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 C. 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.
At the Botanical Gardens in Pietermaritzburg we have found that
full sun not only damages the leaves but also burns the flowers.
We grow them successfully in semi-shade in areas such as on the
sides of our century-old plane tree avenue where they grow happily
with Plectranthus shrubs and the lower-growing hens-and-chickens,
Our plants are 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 needs to
be well watered in spring and summer.
In the coastal KwaZulu-Natal garden the plants, particularly the
leaves, are susceptible to damage by the introduced South American
Amaryllis moth caterpillar. Regular spraying with a pyrethrum-based
insecticide controls this problem. The herbivorous mole rat also
damages the bulbs.
References and further reading
- Nichols, G. 2002. Crinum moorei. Farmer's Weekly, September
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers: KwaZulu-Natal
and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust,
- Verdoorn, I.C. 1961. Crinum moorei. The Flowering Plants
of Africa 34: t. 1351.
Natal National Botanic Garden