Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Queen Emma in bloom

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'Queen Emma' has smiled her brightest.  Wooeee such a show!  The size of the Queen's spider flowers are only exceeded by their grace—the right proportion of both gifts, in my view.  Ah, the increasing saturation of the pink of the six petals, from palest to powerful, tip to center.  Ah, the contrast with the burgundy of the six pistils, each with its dangling yellow jewelry of pollen.

 

And how notable that such a riveting display is achieved only with those six petals, those six pistils.  This is supermodel beauty, just this side of anorexic.  The flowers of 'Queen Emma' are, so to speak, the anti-Christ to those of peonies and mums.  (That these reed-thin flowers are produced by a plant that, at least when it grows lustily in the tropics, is the Titanic of its class, is yet another striking quirk.)

 

Most slender of all, the stigma, whose tip is in front of my index finger.  No pollen, of course: This is the female portion of the flower, looking to receive pollen, not provide it.  It's the epitome of slender, the ultimate in willowy.  But how to be sure that some of the pollen lands right there, at the tip of the stigma that's, oh, less than a millimeter across?  Who's the pollinator here?  What kind of marksmanship would be needed?

 

As it turns out, marksmanship isn't needed at all.  Look at the flower from the side: the six petals are fused into a narrow tube several inches long.  The nectar that the pollinator is really craving—the sweet, sugary, hi-carb food it's hungry for—is down in that tube. 

 

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This is a flower designed for pollinators with particularly long tongues (some of them use their noses, actually).  And because the pistils are so long and dangling, pollinators that must feast while still aloft—still flapping their wings—could only do it if they and their wings were far enough away they wouldn't get tangled in the pistils.  More likely, the pollinators alight on the blossom to feed, only flapping their wings during landing and take-off. 

 

Either way, the pollinator will need to have several inches of tongue (or nose) at the ready for it to be able to access the nectar down in the tube.  And those pollinators have big wings.  Butterflies, maybe?  My vote is for nocturnal moths.  Especially in the crinum's native tropics, there are huge species, with noses almost a foot long.  That's inches to spare to get to the nectar of 'Queen Emma'.  And when they land and take off, their large wings will bat the pollen packs to and fro, releasing a little cloud of pollen—more than enough for a few pollen grains to land on the stigma.

 

But, alas, there aren't such super-long-nosed moths in New England.  And so 'Queen Emma' isn't likely to set seed for me.

 

PS:  What gracious lady is without fragrance?  As befitting these abstemiously slender blossoms, their fragrance is light and slender, too.  Nothing as (comparatively) heavy and vulgar as that of, oh, jasmines or gardenias, which you can almost see rolling across the yard toward you.

 

 

 

Here's how to grow this colorful and impressive crinum lily:

Latin Name

Crinum 'Queen Emma'

Common Name

Queen Emma's purple crinum

Family

Amaryllidaceae, the Amaryllis family.

What kind of plant is it?

Perennial bulb.

Hardiness

Zones 8 - 11

Habit

Dense heavy rosettes of outward-and-upward projecting, strap-like leaves, usually arising from the top of a short trunk.  Some individuals stay solitary, in which case the striking sculptural oddity of the plant is at its best; others offset with enthusiasm, giving you regular opportunity to restore solitary splendor by digging them out and giving to friends. 

Rate of Growth

In mildest climates, with steady heat and plenty of water, very fast.

Size in ten years

A (usually) single rosette six feet wide and almost as tall.

Texture

Tropical, sculptural, and prehistorically big-boned.

Grown for

the foliage, which, depending on how much or little sun the plant gets, can be only purple-blushed or, in full sun, as purple as the leaves of the purplest purple-leaved smoke bush.  And that's purple.

 

the overall size, which, combined with the short trunk, stops first-time viewers in their tracks.  Individual leaves can be three feet long and four inches wide; put a few dozen of them into a rosette and stick it atop a trunk a foot or two tall, and you've got something big.  Indeed, 'Queen Emma' looks, at first, like it was assembled rather than grown—like a prop that has escaped from the set of "The Attack of the Giant Apes."

 

the tall clusters of a dozen and more enormous spidery flowers, purple-pink in bud, whose upper petal surface, revealed as the flower opens, is a nicely contrasting white-pink.  Individual blossoms can be eight inches across, and a cluster on an established plant well over a foot wide and almost as high.  The flowers are fragrant too.

Flowering season

In-ground in the tropics, the flowering is November through February.  At the cooler ends of its range, flowering is more and more toward the Spring.  In containers, if the plant is held under protection in a cool enough greenhouse to keep it quiet all Winter, the flowering is pushed into the Summer.

Culture

Crinums are famously thick-skinned, tolerating almost any amount of neglect, heat, and drought, yet still persisting, even flowering.  Their massive amaryllis-on-steroids bulbs and thick, deeply penetrating roots are a couple of reasons why.  But a "persisting" crinum doesn't mean an attractive one: the subtropics and tropics worldwide are dotted with huge old crinum clumps that are bedraggled, if happily blooming, messes.  Removing the old leaves will do wonders. 

 

'Queen Emma' tops everyone's list of monster crinums, and while it's not nearly as hardy as 'White Queen', it's just as tolerant and tough.  Sun or shade—but the purple leaf color is only significant in the sun.  Very drought-tolerant, too, but a crinum that's "tolerating" its living conditions isn't often a crinum that you want to pull over and take pictures of.  I'm recalling 'Queen Emma' growing by gas stations in the Florida Keys, where they looked less like landscaping than like a faded pile of shredded major-appliance boxes that hadn't been put into the dumpster.

 

Be nice to your crinums, then, and they'll be very nice to you.

How to handle it

At the colder end of its hardiness—down into Zone 8—'Queen Emma' will get major frost-damage, from which it recovers quickly.  Most crinums need little more than occasional grooming year-round, to cut off the faded leaves and flower stems.  

 

'Queen Emma' is also very happy in a container, although the plant's would-be immensity is a persistent nag for you to repot, each Spring, into larger and larger containers.  There are smaller purple-leaved crinums to grow if your overwintering space is limited, so stick with, say, 'Sangria' instead of 'Queen Emma' unless you're really committed to the Queen's mission of Bigger Is Better—and all the heavy schlepping that achieving the mission will mean.

 

Like all the amaryllis tribe, no critters bother crinum bulbs, flowers, or foliage.  So make friends with crinums, all of you who garden amid deer, voles, groundhogs, and raccoons.

Downsides

For the Queen's immense flowers, deep purple foliage, and ever-increasing size, lugging the pot into shelter in the Fall and then back out to the garden in the Spring is the least I can do.  But it's lugging all the same. 

Variants

With nearly 200 species, and probably that many additional hybrids and cultivars, crinums are a big rabbit hole to fall into.  (I'm at seven and counting.)  Some are strictly aquatic, others are amazingly drought-tolerant, thriving in Florida sand.  Some, like 'Queen Emma', grow from suitcase-sized bulbs with thigh-thick above-ground necks, almost like short trunks.  Some have foliage that's purple-blushed, dark purple, or variously green-and-white striped.  The flowers themselves range from pure white to all possible shades of pink, sometimes striped with white, to a mid-rose. 

Availability

On-line, at specialty retailers at the margins of their hardiness and,

in their subtropical and tropical heartland, at Home Depot.

Propagation

By offsets.

Native habitat

Malaysia

 
 
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