Crinum campanulatum Herb.
Common names: water crinum, marsh lily (Eng.); vleilelie (Afr.)
The beautiful Crinum campanulatum from the Eastern Cape is an aquatic geophytic plant that deserves more recognition and attention in gardens of South Africa.
Crinum campanulatum is a large to small, evergreen or deciduous perennial that often forms clumps when well established. They are mainly summer growing plants with a dormant period in the winter. The rootstocks are typical bulbs, which are able to survive permanent water or waterlogged soils as well as seasonal dry spells. The leaves are perennial; four to many, green, with or without a prominent midrib, narrowly channelled to strap-shaped. The flowering stem is up to 1 m long.
The flowers are borne in terminal clusters, nodding, with a long, slender tube and are white or a rose pink to deep rose as they mature. They are trumpet- or bell-shaped, hence the specific name campanulata, which refers to a bell. The flowering period is from spring to summer. The fruits are capsules, which contain the large or small irregularly shaped, fleshy seeds. In permanent water this plant will remain evergreen but as soon as the water dries up, the plants will lose their leaves and become dormant till the next rainy season.
Crinum campanulatum is classified as Rare. It is endemic to a small region between Grahamstown, Port Alfred and Peddie in the Eastern Cape. It is known from 12 small and severely fragmented subpopulations. Its current Red List status is Near Threatened (NT). Although its population is not declining, it is at risk from water pollution.
Distribution and habitat
Crinum campanulatum is endemic to the Albany floristic region of the Eastern Cape where it occurs in temporary pools and seasonal marshes in grasslands. It is not found where extreme low temperatures are encountered and it seems that in terms of flowering, the plant responds well to a dry spell just before the rainy season. Due to the aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats, the soils vary from clay to fine-grained mud and silt-like soils.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Crinum means, bulbous plant and the species name campanulata mean shaped like a bell. The genus Crinum is rich in species and is represented world-wide. There are about 100 species, which occur in tropical Africa, Asia, America and the temperate regions of both hemispheres. More than half of the species are found in southern Africa. Other noteworthy members are C. bulbispermum (Orange River lily), C. moorei ( Natal lily or Moore 's crinum) and C. macowanii (Sabie crinum).
Insects pollinate all species of Crinum. Most species in this genus have a fragrance, some pleasant and others a bit sickly. The Amaryllis lily borer (Brithys crini) gorges itself on the foliage of these plants. Crinum campanulatum is adapted to survive the dry season by means of its underground rootstock, which stores nutrients and moisture. These bulbs readily produce offsets, which may produce flowering stems after three years. The entire seed of C. campanulatum is covered by a thin, corky layer that insulates it, making it waterproof. This has been an important adaptation in that it has enabled the plants not only to survive wet conditions, but also to further its distribution over larger aquatic areas.
It is only Crinum bulbispermum and C. macowanii which are known to be used medicinally by some groups of people in South Africa. Crinum campanulatum is perhaps better known for its use as a garden and container plant.
Growing Crinum campanulatum
Propagation is from offsets or by sowing seeds when they burst open from their capsules in the late summer. The offsets are removed after flowering or during dormancy. Seeds of Crinum campanulatum and other species in this genus often send out roots before being planted in a suitable medium. For good results it is better to sow the irregularly shaped seeds as fresh as possible, in other words as soon as they ripen.
Deep trays can be used with a mixture of 2 parts coarse river sand and 1 part milled pine bark. Press the seed lightly into the sand or merely placed on the surface. Do not cover the seeds entirely, they must be able to photosynthesize.
Flowering should take place from the third season onwards. It is believed that plants kept dry during the dormant period i.e. winter, will perform much better and produce good flowers in the growing season starting in spring. This is not always the case, as many plants in the wild that are found in permanent to semi-permanent water, flower regularly each year. Plants must be in sunny positions to produce good flowers.
Feed plants well with organic fertilizers in the form of liquid feeds and generous amounts of well-rotted compost prior to immersing them in water. They respond well to nutrient-rich mediums. These aquatic plants are best grown in 150-200 mm pots plunged into a pool 100 mm under water in the early spring. Remember that these plants need to be protected against extreme cold conditions. Plants will survive irrigation during the dormant season provided the soil is well drained.
Other geophytic species that do well in wet conditions include Onixotis stricta (water phlox), Zanthedescia aethiopica (arum lily ), Romulea multisecta (romulea), R. aquatica, Spiloxene aquatica (Cape star), S. capensis and S. canaliculata. Consider also Cyperus textilis, C. papyrus, Aponogeton distachyos, Nympaea nouchali (water lily) and Nymphoides indica (yellow water onion).
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Conservation status updated August 2016
Plant Type: Aquatic, Bulb
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Spring
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: White, Pink
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average