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 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 -
Several people contribute to the Alpine and Rock Garden Team blog. Richard Wilford is the Collections Manager in the Hardy Display Section at Kew. His responsibilities include all the areas where alpines are grown at Kew Gardens. The three team leaders, Joanne Everson, Graham Walters and Katie Price, each have their own particular parts of the Gardens to look after. Between them, these four experts have over 55 years experience of growing alpines.
Alpines at Kew Gardens are not only grown to create colourful and informative displays, they also play an important role in the research Kew carries out around plant naming, classification, biodiversity and conservation.
Mountains are found on every continent and each range has its own unique alpine flora, but these plants are under threat from climate change. As temperatures rise, alpines are forced higher and will eventually have nowhere to go. The alpine collections at Kew are studied to help us all understand the mountain flora better and make informed decisions about protecting its future.
"Probably the most beautiful glasshouse in the world is the Davies Alpine House at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew", John Hoyland, Gardens Illustrated, April 2011
Richard Wilford has written a book on alpines, 'Alpines from Mountain to Garden', published by Kew Publishing. You can buy it in the Kew shops or from Kewbooks.com.
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