Scientific Name: Nerine bowdenii
Common Names: Cornish lily, Guernsey lily, Jersey lily
Plant Type: Geophyte (bulb), perennial
Environment: Native to South Africa. In the wild, lives in very poor soil. Plants grown in richer soil grow bigger with more leaves, but at the expense of flowers. A well-drained, coarse, sandy soil, low in nitrogen, is recommended for a maximum number of flowers. Moderate water needs. Full sun. Hardy to 5 °F.
Bloom: Summer through fall until first frost. Need to be planted where they will not be disturbed for several years. Blooms best when the bulbs are crowded.
Uses: The perfect bulb to add color when the rest of the garden is winding down. Best planted in tight clumps for a dramatic, late season display. Suitable for growing in borders, rock gardens, and containers. Deer resistant. Attractive as cut flowers.
South Africa beds: 26B, 27A, 27K, 27L , 43, 44A, 44F
Shocking pink is not generally a color one associates with autumn, for this is the season of rich golds, oranges, and yellows, followed by umber, sienna, and faded browns. But pink? Check out the South African Garden for swaths of brilliant pink Nerine bowdenii!
The common names of this exotic, autumn-flowering bulb include Cornish lily, Guernsey lily, and Jersey lily. However, it is not a true lily. It is more closely related to Amaryllis. Nor is it from Cornwall, Guernsey, or Jersey, but rather it is native to South Africa. The species was named in 1904, honoring Athelstan Hall Cornish-Bowden, an English Government land surveyor employed in South Africa, who sent bulbs of the plant home to his mother in England.
The genus name, Nerine, comes from the Nereids (sea-nymphs) of Greek mythology that protected sailors, their ships, and perhaps their cargo. The naming was based on the story of how the first of this South African plant arrived on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. It is told that a ship carrying boxes of the bulbs was shipwrecked and the bulbs were washed up on the island. The bulbs became established and multiplied around the coast.
For many years, it was thought that these lovely bulbs came from Japan, but their native home is, in fact, South Africa, especially the Drakensberg Mountains of Natal. There are about 30 species, but only a handful is commonly cultivated. Nerine bowdenii is an herbaceous, perennial bulb that, during summer, appears as nothing more than a cluster of strappy, glossy green leaves. Starting in September, the flower stems push up from among the leaves looking, at first, like “snakes rising to the music of a native charmer.” It is perhaps the most beautiful of the “frilly” Nerine species. The nearly two-foot flower stalks are topped with large umbels of five to ten trumpet-shaped, faintly-scented, brilliant pink flowers that have wavy-edged petals. They resemble finely-cut lilies. It is thought that the flowers co-evolved with tangle-winged flies, possessing ominous-looking, needle-like mouthparts approaching two inches long. In the process of siphoning up rich nectar the flowers are pollinated by the flies.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text by Mona Bourell. Photos by Mona Bourell, Joanne Taylor, Kathryn Rummel, and Brendan Lange.