Jan HintzePropagating Crinum bulbils

What on earth are Crinum bulbils you say – well they are the strange lumpy things that form on the flower heads after the flowers are finished. They are actually a type of tuber, not a seed capsule, so don’t try to open them to see what is inside. They are a very cunning method of propagation which is relatively common amongst the Crinum genus, as well as some other types of bulbs. They aren’t actually members of the Lily family, by the way, they come from the family of Amaryllis. Most crinums grow in very swampy ground, along streams and lakes, and this method of propagation is more reliable than seed, which may get washed away or drowned.

These bulbils form, as I said, at the base of the individual flower in the cluster, and there can be several on the same flower head. When the flowering is finished, the weight of the bulbils forces the stem to fall to the ground, although it is still attached to the plant, which prevents the bulbils from being washed away into deeper water or other unsatisfactory locations. By the way, this is why you find thickets of these plants growing together, in their natural environment, which can be a beautiful sight when they are in flower.

After a week or two, resting on the damp ground, the bulbils will put out a leaf and then a root and will grow on from there, to form an entirely new plant, in due course. With some crinums there can be two or three bulbils formed on one flower, with others, just one.

Crinum asiaticum, which is the most common one grown, has the interesting tendency to become variegated. This will actually show up in the first leaf, but beware the bulbil leaf which comes out entirely white – unfortunately it will not survive, since there is no chlorophyll to produce the goodies which keep the plant alive. There are also some forms and species which have dark purple leaves.

The flowers, which are often scented particularly at night, are usually white, but can be pink or pink/red striped on white. There are about 180 species, varied in size from two to three metres to 50 cm.

Of course, if you want to propagate large numbers of these plants, you will need to dig up an entire clump, and split them apart, to plant each one out singly, but if you only want a few to spread through the garden, then planting the bulbils will give you a few each flowering flush.

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Jan Hintze

About Jan Hintze

Jan is a professional flower grower, horticulturist & consultant, specialising in tropical plants including fruit and vegetable production and cut flowers. Darwin, Northern Territory

28 thoughts on “Propagating Crinum bulbils

  1. Hi there! I very much enjoyed your article. These are probably my favorite plants and so far I have only been able to divide them. I prefer the purple variety, and have many in my yard. I thought the bulbs that showed up when the flower was about spent was the way to go, but I have had no luck getting them to sprout. Some I left on the flower stem and let lay on the ground, others I actually put a bit of dirt over, and I’ve even tried breaking them off and planting them. Any ideas as to what I may be doing wrong or perhaps a suggestion as to how to do it right? Thanks! Kelly 🙂

    • I generally wait until the flower stem collapses with the weight of the bulbils – some of them can be quite large – and then harvest them, and plant them in a pot just covered with well drained soil. Keep moist under the bench in the shade house and eventually they will split open and form a plant. When it is big enough to handle, plant out into the sun. They can take months to come up, so you have to be careful with overwatering. It isn’t just Crinums that do this – lots of other lilies do – the other one I propagate regularly like this is blood lilies (Scadoxus) – their bulbils are about pea sized and are bright red when mature.

  2. I love your article, thank you for the information! Can I store the bulbs to plant at a later date? Do you know how to grow a geiger tree from the seed?

    • Hi Crystal – I’ll ask Jan to get back to you about the crinum bulbs but will attempt to answer your question about growing Cordia sebestena (geiger tree) from seed. My understanding is that the seedpod is left on the tree until it shatters and scatters the seeds which are then sown fresh. As they come from the tropical parts of the Caribbean, they germinate better with some bottom heat from a heat mat but aren’t that easy to get going. Failure to germinate may be because the seed wasn’t fresh enough.

    • Hi Crystal, thanks to Catherine for talking to you about Cordia sebestena – not in my knowledge at all. Yes you can store the bulbils for a short time, as long as they are kept cool and slightly damp – enough to prevent shrivelling. It isn’t a good idea to keep them for too long, since they don’t have much in the line of protective covering, as does a seed, for instance, but you could keep them for a few weeks until you are ready to plant them. You can leave them on the flower stem for a while too, until the stem withers away. Just remember to check them regularly, and if they show signs of sprouting, then they need to be carefully planted as soon as you can. cheers and good Luck. Jan Hintze.

  3. My neighbor offered me a start of Twelve Apostles. The clump was in a narrow bed between the garage & sidewalk. They were over 12″ deep & in digging a few bulbs have the top growth or a slice if the bulb cut off. Can I save these? If so do I need to dust the cuts with anything. I have clay soil & it get very hot n dry here in OK. My thought is that pot culture would be best until fall. Many thanks for this great post!

  4. Hi Deborah, A pity the bulbs were damaged, but it can be difficult to lift them in such a position. If the core of the bulb hasn’t been damaged, then it will probably shoot – you could seal any cut surface with a fungicide power or a yellow sulphur powder (which is less poisonous and available from a pharmacy). These bulbs grow best in moist, open soils, so I would suggest growing them in a container, perhaps permanently if that is possible. Otherwise, you could plant them out in spring after growing them on in a container, and enriching the soil by digging in peat or other organic matter. They are generally fairly hardy, and if dried out, will go dormant and come up again after rain. Good luck.

  5. Last year a lily like this just appeared in my flowerbed. Is that possible or am I nuts, I swear I never saw it before and now it’s big in my flowerbed. Please tell me how it appeared by itself, thanks Dorothy

  6. Hi Dorothy, I suspect that birds are your culprit – they transfer a lot of seed around, sometimes by eating fruit and dropping it, sometimes by the seed sticking to their feathers. A small bulb in some leaf mulch could be the answer, or even a seed (lilies do set seed, which is how some of the amazing hybrids are made). Until it flowers it will be hard to say what species it is – the leaves are often very similar. It is quite easy to move a lily, if it is in an inappropriate place. The roots are generally quite compact, and the plant can be dug up, and planted elsewhere or in a container. Half the leaves should be removed, starting from the outside. Water with liquid fertiliser or seasol and keep it in a shady place until new growth occurs. Then either plant it out again, or put it in more sun to encourage flowers. Be aware that Crinum lilies grow about 120 cm high and 2 m wide so you need a deal of space for them.

    cheers, Jan Hintze.

  7. I have several crinum and find the long stalks with the bulbis attached at the top after flowering is quite unattractive. Can I remove the stalks at the dirt level without damaging the plant itself? I’m not interested in propagating or having more than what I already have.

  8. Hi Leslie, Certainly, you can cut the flowering stem off at any time – either as the flowers wither, or after the bulbils have formed. You can trim it as far down in the leaf cluster as you can easily reach, but take care not to damage the bulb itself. If you don’t want to grow the bulbils on, then take care not to leave them in the bed, since they will sprout by themselves. I agree, if you don’t want more plants, they do look untidy, and deadheading old flowers is a good idea for all plants. cheers, Jan Hintze.

  9. Hi Janet. I am sorry to hear that, what a disappointment. The first flower is always exciting. I suspect that, since you don’t mention that the plant is suffering, that something like a caterpillar, or beetle, has damaged the base of the flower stem, which has stopped the transmission of water and nutrients to the flower buds, hence they have wilted and died. Check the stem right down to the base where it emerges from between the leaves. You are looking for either a broken stem or a large chunk eaten out of it. Check the growing tip of the bulb too, to make sure there is no rot in the bulb itself. In the very middle of the leaf cluster you should be able to see a new leaf emerging. Crinum plants suffer from a few pests, some of which are fatal, so worthwhile checking regularly for damage. Eco-Neem oil is a good way of controlling them. I hope this helps.

  10. I have 10 of the Crinum asiaticum bulbs 5 in huge pots since I live in zone 6, have had them for 2 yrs now. A friend dug them out of her yard and sent them to me. How long will it take them to flower? The leaves are quite healthy but still no flowers?

  11. Crinums lilies are generally very easy to flower, but it might be that in your zone the light isn’t intense enough. They grow in full sun in the tropical and subtropical zones and flower in spring and summer. In their natural environment they are usually dried out during winter (Dry season) and although they don’t actually go dormant, growth is minimal. Perhaps you could try reducing water during the winter, and then fertilising and watering in spring. High potassium fertiliser often encourages flowering. Hope this helps. Cheers Jan Hintze.

  12. I loved your article. I posted a picture on a Facebook ID and discussion group of what I thought was a large green seedpod from a plant that I didn’t know what it was that I found on vacation in Florida in August. I set it on my counter figuring I would let it dry out , then I would crack it open and retrieve the seeds. Lo and behold, 6 weeks later, it dried out a little, split open into 3 parts and something green grew out of each one. It has continued to grow on my counter and the end of the green thing now has what looks to be root nodes coming out and on the side appears to be the first leaves. I guess it is time to plant. Your article gave me much information. Thanks

  13. Thanks for the info on all things Crinum. I have more than a few in a bed and, when they flower, the weight pulls the stalk over, even before it blooms. Is this something common until the plants mature more? They’re about 3 years old, transferred from pot.

  14. Hi Robert, This stem collapse is fairly common in Crinums because the flowerheads are heavy and the stem is hollow. I find it happens more often when the offsets at the base of the main bulb flower, rather than the main stem, and I think it may be due to lack of light. They really need to be grown in pretty well full sun, but the larger the plant gets, the more it shades itself. Another possibility is that they need a bit more fertiliser to feed those heavy flower stems. Crinums are usually swamp plants, so need plenty of water. So the solution – first try more fertiliser and water, Second try splitting the offsets from the main bulb, carefully, with hopefully roots attached and plant in more sun. This is not easy, and often involves digging up the whole clump, splitting off the mature offsets and replanting the whole thing. A good day’s work for a strong back, if you are working with one of the bigger Crinums. Good luck.

  15. Morning Jan.

    I am trying to determine whether the bulbs that I have here are Crinum asiaticum or Crinum asiaticum var. pedunculatum (usually described in Australia as Crinum Pedunculatum). While Crinum asiaticum is native to northern Australia I do not think it is native to sub-tropical northern NSW (though I’m not 100% on that one). Crinum pedunculatum is native here.

    By way of context when I first moved here I received from a friend some quick growing and easily transferable gingers, cunjevoi and crinum for house landscaping – exotics and natives. I was happy to have some non-natives around the house but will not plant them elsewhere on the property (having spent the past four years slowly removing the many introduced plants that thrive and become weedy here). So now I have lots of crinum bulbs, and an excellent spring fed swampy area that they would do well in, but I will only plant them there if they are native to this region. The literature doesn’t provide me clear tell-tale signs of the differences to look for. Do you have any suggestions?

  16. Hi Rod, I am afraid that, since I am not a taxonomist, I don’t know enough to be of much assistance.
    However, Wikipedia says “C. pedunculatum is considered by some sources to be a synonym of Crinum asiaticum var. pedunculatum.[3] The differences between C. asiaticum and C. pedunculatum are subtle. The latter tends to be somewhat smaller, but has broader petals, giving it a less fragile appearance.” If you look at the pics. illustrating both species, the differences can be seen, although it probably would be easier to see them side-by-side. As to whether which is native to northern NSW, you would have to consult a Flora of New South Wales, or even a more localised Flora, if you can find one. Most of the material I have available to me is for the Northern Territory.
    It seems to me that a resort of the Crinum species is due, using more modern techniques, since there seems to be a lot of confusion.
    Sorry I can’t be of more assistance. Cheers, and good luck with your research.
    Jan H.

  17. I have lots of crinum and intend to dig & divide for our HSA sale upcoming. I would like to dig the whole clump, separate, but keep the bulbs for the sale which is 2 months away, without planting them in soil. Do I dry them in the greenhouse or in a cooler location. I am in 8B
    Thanks, Jean

  18. I have recently started to propagate crinum from collected tubers. Not sure of the exact species but they came from a large crimun with green leaves. One of the newly sprouted tubers has leaves of a solid maroon color with no variation. Most likely got cross pollinated by a queen emma which around here never have any viable tubers and can only be propagated via division. I am unable to find any comparable photos online. You mentioned they do sometimes come up variegated and have dark purple leaves. If anyone has any info or picture please respond. J

  19. Thank you, Jan, for the well written article.
    The questions that I’m left with, are:
    Which direction faces up in the bulbil, when planting it; and how deeply does it need to be planted, when waiting for it to sprout?
    Does one tamp the earth down when planting the bulbil?
    How much sun does it need to flower?
    Thanks so much for your answers.
    Wishing you a lovely day,
    Aviva Waldstein.

  20. Hi Aviva, The direction of the bulbil doesn’t matter too much, since it uncoils itself from the outer covering, and instinctively sends the root down into the soil, and the leaf upwards to the light. A small miracle. I generally plant thing, bulbs and seed, about the length of the seed deep. That would mean, if the seed is a centimetre longways, then a centimetre of soil on top. Bulbils are the same, some are smaller than others. The soil shouldn’t be too packed on top, just firm enough that it doesn’t wash away with watering.
    Crinums flower quite readily in semi shade, with full sun in the morning or late afternoon. Some will handle full sun. cheers, and good luck gardening, Jan Hintze.

  21. I have found that my crinums will not bloom unless they get a lot of water. Once they get good, long soakings, those flower stalks pop up everywhere. In one of my beds, the soil is very loose and needs frequent water, but another has a lot of clay so they don’t need so much.

  22. I once read that you can propagate amaryllis by slicing them as long as a portion of the root end is attached. I wanted to propagate crinums and cut each bulb into 8 smaller pieces. It was a couple of years before they flowered again, but I had quite a large number with that procedure. Once again I want to multiply my crinums, but cannot find the exact instructions. I had them written down, but lost all my gardening info in a house flood when our creek overflowed. Anyone know how to do this? TIA

  23. I have a large clump of white Crinum lilies and love them. I enjoy watching the night moths zip back and forth from flower to flower. They are as big as a hummingbird! I live in Florida and the Crinums love the summers here! I have access (at work) to the purple variety with the deep green/purple leaves and want them in my yard. Problem is….by the time the flowers have produced the bulbil our landscaping company has cut them off before I can get to them! As the flowers are starting to wilt now, if I go ahead and cut the stem off at the ground level will the bulbil continue to develop?

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