Crinum 'Ellen Bosanquet'
Plant spotlight

Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’

Since just prior to the War Between the States, crinum lilies have been a popular staple in rural gardens throughout the deep Southeast…a far distance from their mostly native African origins. Crinum lilies first made their way into cultivation in the 1600s in the UK. After European plant breeders broadened the palette through breeding, crinums were brought to the US, where they found a welcoming home in the hot, humid southeast.
It didn’t take long for plant breeders in the Gulf Coast states to become captivated by these beauties, and begin to further hybridize them to create new colors and forms. Even today, you can find abandoned clumps of crinum lily hybrids through the Southeast countryside. While many of the early hybrids created prior to World War II have been surpassed by modern hybrids, one variety that has stood the test of time is Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’. 

Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ (Bo-sand-ket) was hybridized in the 1920s by Floridian Louis Bosanquet, and although Louis kept his crosses as secretive as the Colonel did his chicken recipe, it’s thought his new introduction was a cross of the early 1900s hybrid Crinum ‘J.C. Harvey’, and either  of the African native Crinum scabrum or Crinum moorei.
The breeder, Louis Percival Bosanquet was an English transplant who in 1888, settled in Fruitland Park, Florida, just northwest of Orlando. By all accounts Louis was quite a plantsman, whose pastimes including breeding crinum lilies. One of his crinums so struck his fancy, he took the daring step for a nurseryman and named it after his wife, George Washington descendant, Ellen Hall Bosanquet. Although Louis developed more crinum lilies during his career, including one named after himself, none  came close to matching the popularity of his Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’, which is the top produced crinum cultivar in the world.
Crinum are bulbous cousins of the more popular Hippeastrum (mistakenly sold as Amaryllis). If you think hippeastrums have large bulbs, wait until you dig…or try to dig a crinum lily. When happy in rich, moist soil, crinum bulbs can reach a size just shy of a basketball. In the garden, Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ offsets nicely, so before long, you’ll have a rather large (7’ wide) clump, composed of numerous bulbs. Due to something called contractile roots, the crinum bulbs pulls themselves deeper in the soil each year, so don’t expect to find the bulbs close to the soil surface. I’ve found the bottom of some crinum bulbs as much as 2’ below the soil surface.
In our climate, crinum lilies die to the ground after the first hard freeze, but as soon as freezing has passed in spring, the 4’ long, glossy green leaves emerge from the dormant bulbs. In our area, Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ begins flowering in mid-June and continues to produce more stalks through much of the summer. The large, reddish-burgundy flowers with a delightful spicy fragrance, emerge in clusters of 9-11 atop 2’ tall stalks.
Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ is quite easy to grow, and flowers well, given at least six hours of sun daily. While crinum lilies are incredibly drought tolerant, they will not flower well without fairly regular moisture. Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ is widely available on-line, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll find one at a garden center. Of course, the best option is to find a neighbor with one that needs to be divided or moved. If so, be sure to bring at least one sturdy shovel and good back muscles…or a small backhoe.

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