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.