Seven long years to bloom and then it dies – Cardiocrinum giganteum

The giant Himalayan lilies are coming into bloom. Cardiocrinum giganteum. It is the biggest of the lily family, hailing from areas like Tibet, Bhutan, Assam, Myanmar, Nepal and Sikkim.  It feels a bit of a triumph that we now have this bulb naturalised here. We haven’t planted any for many years and just allow them to grow where they pop up from seed.

The largest lily of them all – Cardiocrinum giganteum

These are not lilies for the home gardener on a small urban section. The flower spikes often reach three metres here and have been recorded at up to five metres. Fortunately, the stem is such that they can hold themselves up.

Usually six years of foliage and in the seventh year, it puts up an astounding flower spike

The main obstacle for most gardeners is that the bulb takes about seven years before it flowers and then it dies. Fortunately it makes offshoots around the main bulb as well as setting seed but those offshoots can take another five years minimum before they flower and the seeds take seven years. These are not lilies for the impatient gardener. And, while very fragrant, the flowers are a long way up so unless you have a grove of plants flowering at the same time, you are unlikely to get the benefit of scent. In the intervening years, they just form a clump of large, heavy textured, heart-shaped leaves that are reasonably anonymous.

Typically, these plants need cool, open, woodland conditions with soils which never dry out and are rich in humus. Those are pretty specific conditions.

The top photo is one of those really, seriously peculiar plant combinations that are a characteristic of many New Zealand gardens – a self sown Cardiocrium giganteum from the Himalayas, flanked on the right by Pseudowintera colorata (commonly known here as the mountain horopita or pepper tree) with Dracophyllum latifolium behind (both NZ natives) and then what we know as Aloe bainseii but is now, apparently, Aloidendron barberae – the tree aloe from southern Africa. It is a veritable United Nations of plants here.

10 thoughts on “Seven long years to bloom and then it dies – Cardiocrinum giganteum

  1. tonytomeo

    Monocarpic plants can be difficult to justify. The native (Hespero)Yucca whippleii does this, but the pups are already starting to mature as the main bloomed rosette dies. Some monocarpic palms take many years to bloom, and then die without any pups.

    Reply
      1. tonytomeo

        Oh, that is not a (Hespero)Yucca whipplei. That would be a terrestrial yucca that just sits on the ground, and produces a very tall floral spike. The leaves are flexible, but outfitted with surprisingly sharp tips and thin margins that cause painful paper cuts. Yours looks more like a Yucca rostrata. The unpleasantly sharp leaf tips might designate it as Yucca rigida, but it looks too fluffy for that. Neither are monocarpic. They happen to be some of the prettier Yuccas, but as you noticed, they are not very easy to work with. The best Yucca rigida I know of is in a compact front yard garden in Los Angeles, where it occupies significant space that could be used for something else.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        Well, thank you for that. They are not common around here and it must have come to us as whippleii. In all the years we have had, nobody has corrected us. These are native to your area?

      3. tonytomeo

        Yucca rotrata is Texan. (Hespero)Yucca whipplei is native just a few miles to the south of here, and where I went to school. It is the first of the native Yuccas I ever met. We used to cook the young floral stalks as asparagus, but that deprives them of their spectacular bloom, which is also edible. There are four varieties of it. In the wild, the common one that I met first is my favorite. It is not something I would want too close to the garden. I might put them around a vegetable garden to keep the deer out, but I would not want their pups sneaking in too closely. Although they tend to stay closely packed, if their broadly dispersed roots find something they like, they can produce long stolons with pups at the ends. The leaves are quite flexible, but the tips can pierce boot leather! I never met the Baja Mexican variety, which supposedly makes the best ‘asparagus’. I met one of the other varieties growing wild in a riparian ecosystem in a park in Beverly Hills (in the Los Angeles Region), but was not so impressed. It was relatively weedy and sloppy, with much of the older foliage laying limply around the upright new foliage. I would have been prettier in a drier situation. I saw the fourth variety growing wild near Santa Paula. It is so tightly packed that it props up the carcasses of old dead rosettes for years after bloom. Because there are so many rosettes in each colony, there are always some blooming. I think it would be pretty in a garden situation (at a distance), where the dead rosettes could be groomed out, or at least (carefully) pressed down under the new foliage.
        Anyway, it might be what is known as Yucca whipplei there, and because they are so uncommon, there may not be anyone there who knows otherwise.

      4. tonytomeo

        It still looks like Yucca rostrata to me, and that happens to be one of the more popular species. You might want to compare it to descriptions of Yucca rigida (that I mentioned earlier) elata, querateroensis and thompsoniana. The last three are not so gray.

  2. Pingback: Seven long years to bloom and then it dies – Cardiocrinum giganteum — Tikorangi The Jury Garden | Gardening Partners

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