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Hymenocallis X festalis (Peruvian daffodils; Ismene; Summer daffodils)

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For years, I’ve been drooling over descriptions of this flower: it’s a bulb, it’s fragrant, it blooms in the middle of hot summer: what more could I want?

I did try it once. Reading somewhere that it was drought-tolerant, I got three bulbs and planted them in one of my containers. Results: nothing.

I still wanted to try again.

Yet somehow, year after year, I kept cutting it off my list. Next year, I’d say to myself. Next year I’ll have it. And year after year, I kept reading and seeing pictures of all the beautiful species as well as the hybrid cultivated forms (Scott Ogdens’s book, Garden Bulbs for the South, was the catalyst for many of my fantasies).

Last fall I finally ordered them again. Bowing to my climate and budget, I picked one of the best-known, easiest-grown, and easiest-to-find cultivars. Hymenocallis festalis is hardy to zone 8, where I live. The graceful, elegant, desirable species I saw were from Mexico, and hardy only to zone 9 or 10. I’d been down that road before. I chose the road most traveled by: I ordered a plant I knew would survive in my climate.

As usual, I had to work at finding places to stash all my fall-planted bulbs, and I’d forgotten not only where I’d put them, but that I had them. So when these strange fat light-green amaryllis-like stems started emerging from the large container with the Goodwin Creek lavender and Berggarten sage, I didn’t know what they were.

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Until the day one opened. For a minute, when I saw it, I thought: what’s that white trumpet lily doing on such a short stalk? My hymenocallis is shorter on its stalk than the picture, only about eight inches tall; that’s usually caused by late planting. Since I didn’t keep records of when I planted last year (bad, I know), I’m not sure if planting late was the cause this time.

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I happened to pick up Two Gardens, letters of Elizabeth Lawrence and K.S. White, while I was mulling this over. In one of the letters, Elizabeth Lawrence points out that hot-freeze-hot can create short bulb stems. We certainly had that this spring – and summer.

I’m also wondering if they came up this time because of a mistake I made. I got distracted watering one day, and I left the hose on that big container with the lavender and sage (and Hymenocallis).

Some hymenocallis like a boggy situation (I saw some in a greenhouse that were growing in water);

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others prefer light watering and good drainage. Hymenocallis festalis is the light-water type according to most of my sources (including Select Seeds, where I bought them). But it’s interesting that I got the hymenocallis sprouts right after I gave that pot a good soaking.

Gaygardener says that H. festalis multiplies better if it’s kept moist all the time. I might test that out at some point, but our water table is low from drought, and I’m not going to make my lavender/sage pot into a bog anytime soon

In any case, in the obliging way of bulbs, it’s opened. The fragrance is of the orangeblossom/gardenia/ tribe, but somehow diluted and softened in a very pleasing way.

Hymenocallis X festalis is a cross of the Mexican H. narcissiflora with H. longipetala. (Maybe those are some species hymenocallis I could grow, if I could locate them. Or maybe not.) Hymenocallis is in the Amaryllis family, which is why its emerging stems reminded me so much of amaryllis. Daffodils are in the same family, as you can tell by hymenocallis’s looks, and one of its common names.

As for the Latin name, “Hymenocallis” means “beautiful membrane”, and refers to the flower’s corona. The “festalis” part of the name means, as you might have guessed, festival or holiday. So it’s a beautiful festive membrane. (I do think the curling-back petals of hymenocallis look like some party decoration.)

Someday, maybe I’ll find a way to grow some of the species hymenocallis. Meanwhile, I’m happy to finally celebrate my little Hymenocallis festival.

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12 comments

1 Jacob Knecht { 08.06.09 at 3:11 pm }

Hi,

Fun story, I am glad it all turned out well and that you finally got to enjoy this wonderful plant.

I just wanted to clarify for you that both parents involved in this hybrid “× festalis”, (the most widely used name for it but officially it’s “× deflexa”) are species from the genus Ismene (morphologically and phylogentically distinct from Hymenocallis). Also since both parents, I. longipetala and I. narcissiflora, occur naturally only in the Andes Mtns, I just wanted to give you a heads-up that this plant can’t really be called Mexican as such. In fact all Ismene species are endemic to Peru with the exception of I. longipetala that is endemic to both Peru and Ecuador.

Happy growing and congratulations!

2 MNGarden { 08.06.09 at 3:25 pm }

I love a happy ending.
Donna

3 tina { 08.06.09 at 6:12 pm }

I am happy for you too. It is beautiful and I am glad it bloomed and you described the fragrance. I planted a few in a pot this past spring. I bought them in a big box store thinking how cool would it be to have daffodils in summer? Not knowing they were not hardy here or I’d never have purchased them. They have most healthy foliage but not one single bud or flower stalk. Maybe I need to water them more now that I’m reading this?

4 Pomona Belvedere { 08.06.09 at 6:29 pm }

Jacob, I very much appreciate the botanical information. Is this one of those instances where gardeners call it one thing and botanists another? Because the sources where I got the botanical name are usually reliable.

I’m not by my Bulbs for the South book, so I can’t check to see whether Ogden mentions these bulbs as natives of Mexico or just growing there – a lot of plants have come up from Peru and farther and naturalized themselves.

5 Daffodil Planter { 08.09.09 at 11:15 pm }

Good things come to those who wait (or over-water!)

6 Cyd { 08.13.09 at 8:21 am }

Stunning flower! What a nice surprise.

7 Joanne { 09.17.09 at 8:18 am }

I grew them for the first time this year also. Some in pots and others directly in the ground. All but the smallest bulb bloomed and for a long period. That makes them keepers. But what I would like to know is what is the difference between Imene and Hymenocallis? Both are genus, right?

8 Pomona Belvedere { 09.18.09 at 10:55 am }

Yes, they are. The problem lies in which is the most recent call from taxonomists. Plant names are changing left and right all over – and not just plant names, but whole families and even kingdoms. It’s all due to DNA sequencing. Jacob sent me a follow-up email explaining the new classification, and giving me a place to help keep up-to-date. Here’s a quote from his letter:

There is still much confusion over *Hymenocallis* and*Ismene
* in the plant trade. So often it’s the large growers and nurseries that
are loath to make the changes for fear of customers not finding a what they are looking for…

As for a handy source for checking on the taxonomy, accepted spelling, and even natural range of species, I usually refer to the Kew Checklist, which combines a complete monocot checklist and also has completed checklists for other dicot families. See:
http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/prepareChecklist.do;jsessionid=8FA1DE2EACE818E797DFDE459BC524F8?checklist=selected_families%40%40023230120092114395)

The advantage of this site over IPNI is that it actually shows the
difference between accepted names and their synonyms. The drawback is that sometimes they don’t do enough work on checking their sources and sometimes non-peer reviewed publications and monographs (there is no international statu[t]e that I know of requiring monographs and other plant encyclopaedias to be peer reviewed) are used rather foolishly as evidence. Also site searches are case-sensitive so, unlike google, the Kew Checklist Search will not come up with suggestions unless you’ve got correct spelling ahead of time.

9 Joanne { 09.18.09 at 5:22 pm }

Thank you for that link. It will be very useful. I do a lot of research and always check for more than one source to confirm. The peer reviewed encyclopedia is a great idea.

10 crucasrip { 12.19.10 at 6:13 pm }

“White, while I was mulling this over. In one of the letters, Elizabeth Lawrence points out that hot-freeze-hot can create short bulb stems. We certainly had that this spring – and summer.”
You can read more about it?

11 Diane { 09.03.11 at 1:12 am }

Hi I’m commenting from England and I’m quite new to gardening, but love it. My nan went on holiday to wales and found some bulbs at a garden centre and thought it would be a good challenge for me as she loves gardening and has never seen them before. I have found out that they are peruvian daffodils but alls the pack said was Hymenocallis festalis with a picture of what it should look like. It looks beautiful but i have no idea how to grow it or treat it – i live in Stoke on Trent in the middle of England we can get altot of rain and most of our soil is boggy we do have some sun ( now and then) – If possible i would like some planting tips please – Thank you Diane, 25 England

12 Faye { 05.12.13 at 2:39 pm }

I live in Nova Scotia, Canada …. our growing zone is 6. In winter, its not at all uncommon to have temperatures of -30 Fahrenheit. I will be planting-up my “Festalis” Hymenocallis, in a pot for my deck … as I am not sure it will survive our cold winters.

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