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Dramatic display of giant Himalayan lily seedheads

Katie Price
2 December 2010

The giant Himalayan lily looks good even in winter. Find out how we grow this magnificent plant in Kew's Woodland Garden.

In the Woodland Garden at Kew, the colourful carpet of fallen leaves is punctuated by tall burnished stems topped with golden seedheads. These are a reminder of the glorious June display of the giant Himayalan lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum).

Cardiocrinum seedheads are silhouetted against the frosty background of the Gardens

Cardiocrinum giganteum seedheads in the Woodland Garden

 This mighty plant comes from the Himalaya, growing in woodland clearings at altitudes of between 1,500 and 3,600 metres. The plants grow up to four metres tall and carry as many as 20 large, white, sweetly fragrant flowers on the single stem that emerges from each bulb.

 

The dramatic floral display of Cardiocrinum giganteum

The bulb takes about seven years to reach flowering size from seed, by which time it has a diameter of at least 20 centimetres and has pushed itself half way out of the soil. This levitation means that it is quite shallowly rooted, and it is not uncommon to find a flowering stem that has keeled over due to the weight of its waxy flowers.

 

                   

l: The shallow roots and, top left, a glimpse of one of the offsets, produced around the base of the flowering stem

m: The offsets can be gently separated from the stem and replanted

r: Woodland Garden Volunteer, Kate, plants one of the offsets
 

Cardiocrinum giganteum is monocarpic, dying after flowering. However, it produces a number of new offsets which can be separated and replanted just below the soil surface. These take three to five years to flower, but never reach the stature of plants grown from seed.

The seedheads have three chambers, tightly stacked with flat triangular seeds each surrounded by a papery wing. We sow seed every year, to try to ensure a steady succession of flowering-size bulbs – the seed requires double stratification, which means it germinates after two winters in our outdoor seedframe. Seedlings are pricked out, four to a 5 cm pot and left to bulk up before being potted on as small bulbs and planted out when their bulbs reach around 2.5 cm in diameter.

The papery seeds are packed tightly into the large seedpods

 The plant prefers a rich, moist, well-drained soil and is adapted to cool, damp Himalayan summers, so in the UK it is best grown in the dappled shade of a woodland garden. We also grow a variety from Yunnan, Cardiocrinum giganteum var yunnanse, which tends to have redder and shorter stems, and a brighter red in its blooms.
 

Cardiocrinum giganteum var. yunnanense

These dramatic structures are robust and longlasting: one of Kew's diploma students used the previous year's seed heads as decorative stakes on his vegetable plot - and an enterprising spider was quick to spot a hunting opportunity too!

Cardiocrinum seed pod with spider's web

 

- Katie -

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Comments

25 October 2011
Comment: 
How exciting! In my experience these seedlings are very robust and can handle being moved at quite an early stage, as long as they are watered in well. Now begins your deliciously lengthy anticipation of those astounding flowers...
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21 October 2011
Comment: 
after scattering Cardiocrinum seed in the garden I now have many seedlings popping up. These have one small leaf about 2 inches long. When is a good time to move these seedlings? I know that trilliums do not like being moved too early.
24 January 2011
Comment: 
I am working on seed germination ecophysiology of Giant Himalayan Lily collected from its native range in Uttarakhand Himalayas (India). Watching woodlands with natural population of Cardiocrinum giganteum is pleasure.
3 December 2010
Comment: 
These are fabulous plants - even if they do take several years to flower - they are well worth the wait!

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