The somewhat extraordinary Queensland spear lily

July 14 this year

I first reported on the blooming of Doryanthes palmeri, the giant Queensland spear lily, back in July. July 14, to be precise. It had never flowered here before but we are nothing if not patient gardeners. Besides, this poor specimen had never even been planted. It was just tossed aside in the nursery and had rooted through its original planter bag in a spot by the hedge. In the decade or more since, the nursery has been closed and that area converted to the new garden.

August 17

August 17

I thought the leaning flower spike might be because the whole plant is leaning out to the sun, but I see that it is typical of the species and I can’t think of any perennial that is strong enough to hold a flower spike of that weight and substance on the vertical. As more flowers opened, the spike weighed further and further down until it now rests just a few centimetres above the ground.

This solved a mystery for me. As we lumbered along on the slow bus from Sydney airport to Bondi Junction in July (we were not in a hurry and travel lightly so the bus exercise cost about $A3 each instead of over $A70 for a taxi), Mark pointed out the spent doryanthes flower spikes standing tall on a plant. Crumbs, I thought, ours is just opening and theirs are already finished. But as those spikes were very upright, I realise now it must have been the other doryanthes species, D. excelsa. It’s natural habitat is a little further south, in limited areas of coastal New South Wales.

September 2

I continued to photograph our plant through August. By September, I was working out that it was never going to open en masse as I had thought, but individual flowers would open in sequence and remain cup or goblet-shaped, not opening flat. The bees loved it and every time I passed, I could hear the hum. Each flower held a little well of nectar and I caught sight of the occasional tui bird feeding there but mostly the bees held possession.

Pools of nectar

It is now the end of November and still it flowers on. Past its best, maybe, but four months have now passed. The flowers are still pools of nectar.

November 28

This is not a plant for every garden. The leaves are a metre and a half long so it needs a space that is over three metres across in all directions. But I have just the right spot for it when I get to plant the new Court Garden next autumn. I see on the Australian National Herbarium site that each rosette only flowers once but then smaller rosettes are formed at the base. Like the giant  cardiocrinum lily, in fact. But we will have to wait more than another decade at least for flowers on the new rosettes.  Fortunately, we have another plant (also still in a pot) which may star in one of the interim years.

The doryanthes is listed as ‘vulnerable’ in the wild, largely because of its very limited natural habitat in the south Queensland coastal area.

We grow a fair number of plants that have a short flowering season of maybe a couple of weeks. If you take a plant that flowers from July to December once a decade or so, the time in bloom averages out to something similar. And the doryanthes is a handsome foliage plant in the years between blooming.

This plant was not going to let a small planter bag deter its growth

7 thoughts on “The somewhat extraordinary Queensland spear lily

  1. Lucy Garden

    I found that at Kew it has got into the habit of flowering every eleven years. In 2015 they posted on Facebook: “The Giant spear lily (Doryanthes palmeri) last flowered in 2004 and is close to flowering now! This plant is famous for its huge leaves, up to 2 metres long and the fact that it flowers very rarely. This slow-growing lily came to Kew as a seed in 1948 and has bloomed in 1966, 1982, 1993 and 2004. It is a member of the Doryanthaceae family and endemic to eastern Australia. You can see the Giant spear lily in the Princess of Wales Conservatory.”

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      That is interesting. I figured it might take generations and a much larger area to build up a big enough supply to stagger the flowering years. Presumably the offsets that will form on this one will all flower more or less the same year – in about 11 years’ time, apparently.

  2. tonytomeo

    What an odd family that is. I would have guessed it to be more directly related to yuccas, rather than a separate family. (I had to look it up because I am not familiar with it.) Incidentally, several specie of yucca extend their floral trusses laterally. One is even known as Yucca declinata, because of the orientation of the blooms.

  3. Hawi Winter

    It will be interesting if your Doryanthes palmeri will produce these sausage-like seed pods with viable seeds. We had one flowering here in Pukekawa some years ago and I have now a pup of the original plant; and it is huge because it grows in a shaded position. I expect it to flower soon.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I assume we started with seed because we listed it in our mail order catalogue at some stage and did not have plants to divide. So maybe we will get seed this time.

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