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Swamp Lily by Jennifer Miller

Swamp Lily
Sometimes a song on the radio or a familiar smell can take you back in time and allow your brain to retrieve a fond memory you thought was forgotten. However, a few weeks ago I saw a plant that took me back in time.
My husband and I just finished building our house and since we have moved in, I have become obsessed with getting my landscape in. Since my background is in agriculture, it comes as no surprise that I love plants. As I looked at what plants that I like and began to chart the sun and shade hours around my new house, I made notes on what type of plants I could grow, and a wish list of plants that I would like to get.
One Saturday my husband and I rode down to my parents’ house and began to look at the plants that have been reclaimed by nature in the edges of the yard and areas of the farm that were once home places. On the outskirts of the back yard there was an area covered with new offshoots from a fig tree. Under that, there was a plant peeking through that had long been forgotten. As I saw it, a memory from my childhood flashed through my head.
I was about nine and I was standing at the back fence watching the cows drink from an old bathtub that my dad had setup with a water hose dropped in it. At the end of the tub where the water continuously overflowed, there was a large green plant with giant fragrant blooms. Back then, the plant was massive. It was about 4 feet wide and chest high on me.
As I walked over to the hidden plant, I was so excited to realize it was still alive and that with a little love it could thrive in a special place at my new house.
I did not know what kind of flower it was. Therefore, as any good county agent would I began to do my research. I looked through publications from UGA and did searches online for similar plants. The only problem was that I was not sure exactly what color the flower had been. So, I snapped a few photos and sent them to another county agent friend of mine whose background is in horticulture. He identified them right away. Swamp lily or crinum lily.
The one I have is often referred to as a Milk and Wine Lily because of the white flower with wine colored lines on it. There are about 130 species of crinums native to the tropics and South Africa. The plant grows from a bulb that can be from 3 to 6 inches wide and can weigh up to 20 pounds depending on the species. The leaves are glossy and bright green and reach a length of 1 to 4 feet. The flowers sit on top of a stalk that is 1 to 3 feet high and can produce as many as 30 lily-like white, pink or rose-red blooms.
Crinums thrive in the South with little care. They are tolerant of all types of soil and can stand some shade but bloom best in full sun. They can be used as accent pieces or planted in mass. Allow 3 to 4 feet between plantings for foliage room. Swamp lilies can be grown from offshoots or seeds. Their exceptional survival has made them somewhat legendary. People often find them in old gardens or forgotten cemeteries and are surprised by their size and beauty.
After learning more about crinum lilies, I now see them everywhere. There is a nice sized crinum by the light pole in front of the Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Department. I have ridden by it five days a week for the last two years and never noticed it until now.
Being able to find hidden treasures like this at old home sites or at forgotten places on the farm is very important to me, as I get older. Having plants that my mom enjoyed while she was alive make me feel closer to her as I move on into new chapters of my life.
If you have further questions on agriculture or natural resources please contact me, Jennifer Miller, at the Jeff Davis County Extension Office: 912-375-6648. Or, visit us online at: or subscribe to the Plow Points Ag Blog:

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