Plant Collector – Sprekelia formosissima

The Sprekelia formosissima or Jacobean lily

The Sprekelia formosissima or Jacobean lily

You learn something every day. This bulb is what is commonly known as the Jacobean Lily, even though it has nothing to do with the Jacobeans and it is not a lily. For years I have freely tossed the descriptor around, “it resembles a Jacobean lily”, thinking more of William Morris textile design than botany. And all the time, there is a wide level of agreement internationally that the Jacobean lily is Sprekelia formosissima. Added to that, when a species name is formasana or formasanum, it usually means that the plant comes from the former island of Formosa (now Taiwan). But the unwieldy formosissima means, loosely, beautiful. In fact it comes from Mexico.

It is indeed a beautiful flower with its rich red strappy petals and elegant form. A member of the amaryllis family, it is closely related to hippeastrums. It grows on quite a tall stem, around 30cm, with just a single flower per stem but fairly long lived. Aside from the genuine lilies, there aren’t a lot of bulbs that flower in early to mid summer. It is not particularly rare but it is one of those collectors’ items that is getting ever harder to source with the shrinking plant range offered for sale these days. If you find a plant with seed, it germinates easily when fresh.

As with all bulbs, the sprekelia likes well drained, friable soils and good light levels. It can get attacked by bulb fly (as can the hippeastrums) so we go for the woodland margins to outwit the sun-loving bulb fly. Despite its Mexican origins, sprekelia is regarded as half hardy which means that it can tolerate cool conditions and light frosts.

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.