Originally the giant lily – Cardiocrinum giganteum was called Lilium giganteum but has since been placed in separate genus now known as Cardiocrinum.
The cardiocrinum was first found by Dr. Wallich in Nepal about 1825 and was introduced to cultivation from seeds sent from central Asia to the Botanic Garden of Glasnevin in 1847.
From here seeds and seedlings were widely distributed.
The plant first flowered in the British Isles in 1852. It seems to take seven years from the sowing of the seed to blooming time. The native habitat of this superb flower is along the Himalayas from Simla to the northernmost point of Myanmar (Burma) and on into eastern Tibet.
Why Some Grow Others Don’t
It is always impossible to explain why certain plants from localities like Tibet should be hardy in southern New York, while others from the same locality cannot live at all. Fortunately this plant is hardy for some people.
In general, I am not enthusiastic about gigantic flowers such as forced chrysanthemums, or dahlias, but this cardiocrinum is so perfectly proportioned from the tip of the flowering spike down to the huge leaves at the base, that it is an exception.
Planting Cardiocrinum Bulbs
After searching I found a source for Cardiocrinum bulbs. After purchasing 6 small bulbs, two each were planted in three different localities to see which would prove the most suitable.
The best situation proved to be on the edge of the woods and back of a pond where the soil was black and powdery to the touch, composed of many year’s accumulation of rotted leaves.
Here in partial shade the bulbs were planted deep enough to have a shallow covering of soil. No protection other than a scattering of leaves was given to them, except chicken wire to keep off “critters”.
The soil must be acid since azaleas, blueberries and clethra grow wild there. There is also a covering of jewel weed and Primula japonica has seeded itself along the shores of the pond.
For the first two years only leaves came up, borne on fairly long stalks. They were large, glossy and yellow green. Then in spring after a most trying winter, three stalks began to grow.
From the beginning of June round stems rose slowly and majestically topped at each stage by a growth that resembled a pineapple which made me think it contained the unopened flowering spike.
Instead, it unfolded into leaves which would place themselves alternately along the lengthening stem. More and more pineapples appeared and meanwhile the stem continued to grow higher and more slender. It measured about three inches across at the base.
These stems were hollow inside on one plant but not on the other two. They did not sway or bend but stood up stiff and straight. Every morning I would investigate to see what progress had been made.
Eventually, late in June, upon reaching six feet and four inches, the flowering spike began to form. By the time the plant was fully in bloom, it measured nine feet two inches in height. That was the tallest of the three stalks.
The whole plant is smooth. The largest leaves were at the base and rose out of the ground. The foliage of my lilies did not form what I would call a rosette but seemed to be disposed in four sets of leaves coming as if from offsets close to the main stem.
The leaves were magnificent, of a glossy green, basally cordate and terminating in a point. They measured 11 inches in length and 10 inches in width and arched from a stalk about thirteen inches long.
They became much smaller as they rose. Superficially they looked something like the leaves of skunk cabbage except for their glossiness and elegance of form.
Blooming Magnificence of Cardiocrinum Giganteum
The flowering spike was seventeen inches long and each of the tubular narrow flowers measured seven inches in length and about three to four across at the mouth.
The tips of the segments did not turn back as much in the flowers as in the pictures taken of flowers in Tibet. They opened greenish white and became paler as they aged.
Inside, on the lower half, the segments were marked with brown magenta and the pollen was yellow. I could not make out the rhythm of their opening whether it was from top to bottom or bottom to top. It seemed hither and yon to me, but most of the flowers on the top opened first.
The effect of these plants with their broad leaves and graceful spires of bloom was startling to behold.
To me they looked majestic and tropical in their luxuriance and I can picture them standing in their whiteness against conically shaped evergreens with snowcapped mountains.
In the garden, the whiteness was stunning against the green of the deciduous leaves and, on a hot summer afternoon, the air all around them was filled with fragrance.
Woodcock and Stearn in their book “Lilies of the World,” recommend lifting the original bulb after the stem has died down and replanting the offsets a little apart so they will not crowd each other.
I opted for waiting on the stem to die and to see how far apart the offsets are before moving them.