Like peonies in the northern United States, which often outlive the gardener who planted them, crinums have deep roots in the South. They thrive in salty sand 600 feet from the Atlantic and in sticky clay at long-abandoned homesites, delighting ghosts and passing travelers with their lush leaves and fragrant summer flowers. Hybrids from the 1800s still survive, shared from gardener to gardener, protected by their resistance to pests and diseases.
A robust crinum’s whorled leaves are generally bolder and more abundant than those of its cousin, the amaryllis. Trumpet-shaped or spidery-petaled blossoms in confectionary colors are borne in tall umbels of up to 20 flowers apiece. The first hint of heat sends early varieties into bloom, while others wait until high summer to waft their luscious perfume.
South American Crinum erubescens (USDA Zone 7) bears spidery white blossoms with burgundy stamens, while C. bulbispermum (Zone 6), native to South Africa, produces blue-gray leaves and white to rosy purple trumpets. Outstanding hybrids include raspberry ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ (Zone 6b); Luther Burbank’s elegant ‘White Queen’ (Zone 7); ‘Stars and Stripes’ (Zone 7), whose alabaster petals each bear a bold red stripe; and ‘Sangria’ (Zone 7), a hardy hybrid of C. procerum ‘Splendens’ (Zone 9), with rose blossoms and bronze-purple foliage.
Plant crinums 12 to 18 inches deep and they’ll produce additional flower scapes. Most handle drought, though they often bloom in response to a soaking. The hardiest crinums survive?Zone 6 winters; the most tender languish in light frost. Container gardeners should overwinter bulbs in their pots—crinums reach their best after a few years of undisturbed growth.