Wednesday 27 October 2010

Not only pink, part 3: Nerine bowdenii

A dark pink clone of Nerine bowdenii selected by Stanley Smee

For most British gardeners, at least, Nerine bowdenii is the most familiar species in the genus; it can be seen in gardens throughout the country, often in large pink masses. It is totally hardy in this climate, but the myth persists that it needs to be planted against a warm wall. This is quite definitely not the case, as it has been shown that flowering is reduced if the bulb gets too hot, and as a summer-growing plant it needs ample moisture during the growing season, not often found at the base of a warm wall in summer. It thrives best in ordinary garden conditions with well-drained soil and full sun, preferably without much else growing around it.

Nerine bowdenii is found in two apparently disjunct populations in the wild. It was originally discovered in the vicinity of King William's Town , Eastern Cape, and plants from this population are still the most abundant in cultivation. They are typically rather bright pink, and the perianth segments (petals) are usually more or less smooth-edged, or slightly wavy. The cultivar 'Linda Vista' (right) is typical of this population.  A few hundred kilometres away the species reappears, on the cliffs of the Drakensberg where Kwa-Zulu Natal meets the Free State at Mont aux Sources. Here the flowering stems are perhaps a little taller, the flowers often a pale pink and the segments have strongly waved or crisped edges. This population is known by the invalid name var. wellsii and look rather different from the Eastern Cape plants: I believe they certainly deserve  taxonomic distinction, probably as a subspecies. Unfortunately I don't have a digital picture of this at present.

Both locations are in the summer rainfall area, and experience cool or cold dry winters. The plants are deciduous, losing their leaves in winter, and it is this critical fact that makes it hardy in Britain - they are effectively dormant through the worst weather. Even though the bulbs usually protrude from the ground they are seldom if ever damaged by frost. The plants leaf out in spring and grow through the summer, and have often withered before the inflorescences emerge, though if the soil remains moist the foliage may still be active at flowering time.

I find the ordinary bright pink of N. bowdenii a rather difficult colour to place in the garden, and think it's best grown away from most other plants blooming in September and October, but it looks good among grasses, and the subtle greyish greens often found in 'mediterranean' plants. As with any popular garden plant there are numerous cultivars selected for colour, floriferousness, height, etc, and there is even one with marginally variegated leaves, 'Mollie Cowie'. Many are rather indistinct and the names are often muddled in commerce, but some are well worth having. I prefer the paler shades of pink, such as those seen here: 'Marnie Rogerson' (left) and 'Pink Surprise' below. This is a poor example of 'Pink Surprise', with far fewer flowers than usual: I think it is one of the very best cultivars.
Nerine bowdenii 'Pink Surprise'

A clone that opens very pale pink and fades to almost white has been known for many years as 'Alba', but it is not really very special in either colour or vigour. In recent years some much better white-flowered clones have appeared, including 'White Magic' (below), which is pure white with a green keel on the outer surface of the perianth segments, a sure sign of it being a true albino. A clump of this doing well will be a magnificent sight, but as I have only one bulb at present there is some way to go!

Nerine bowdenii 'White Magic'


  1. Your 'Pink Surprise' has one more flower bud than mine. All my garden nerines except those in the most sheltered spots were spoilt by a sharp frost on Tuesday.

    I'm going to the Nerine & Amaryllid Society AGM at Holton near Oxford on Saturday. A good time guaranteed, surely?

  2. Googled Nerine 'White Magic' to no avail - apart from this blog. If it is not generally available John, are there nurseries bulking it up for the future, or is it a Nerine Society only plant?

  3. @Brian in Brooke: there are very few plants of 'White Magic' around at the moment & I don't think any nurseries are listing this clone yet. As an alternative, I would recomment Nerine bowdenii 'Bianca Perla', a good strong growing white, no trace of pink & no virus. It's available from Cotswold Garden Flowers & Beggars Roost Plants

  4. I believe that 'White Magic' is being bulked-up by a nursery for future release. I am not familiar with 'Bianca Perla'.

  5. Many thanks for the added information.

  6. Further on 'Pink Surprise' ~ the flowers are considerably less frost resistant than those of bowdenii 'Stefanie' planted right next to it ~ last week's frosts have turned its flowers to pulp, while 'Stefanie' is scarcely damaged. 'Zeal Giant' flowers have also proven considerably more frost-susceptible than those of Nerine bowdenii.

  7. john in coastal Nova Scotia28 November 2010 at 23:27

    Nerine 'Pink Triumph' was knocked flat here by a frost of -4c on the Nov. 19th, our first hard frost. The leaves though are still pristine. It would be interesting to try 'Stephanie' & 'Zeal Giant' if they have a bit more frost resistance. In this province we are definitely pushing our luck with N. bowndeii but have great hopes for seedlings of what was called v. wellsii.

    john in coastal Nova Scotia (presently +1c at 19:25)

  8. Besides fertilizer I also use liquid seaweed extract on my orchids.It seems that they look healthier now since I started using it.It is not a replacement of ferts,but just nice natural addition that orchids do appreciate.

    orchid types

  9. Richard Courtney13 August 2012 at 14:20

    John, are you sure about 'The plants are deciduous, losing their leaves in winter'? I was under the impression that N. bowdenii produced new leaves shortly after the flowers, and that these leaves persist through the winter into spring, before dying off.

    1. It is also possibel that they are nearly evergreen, they don't have a strict dormancy. The same is but with other southern bulbs like Hippeastrum.

    2. I was surprised on coming first to work at Arduaine Garden, on the Argyll coast, to find that the only Nerine bowdenii in the garden were growing on the north side of a large dense conifer where they never saw the sunlight. They flowered well every year.

      However, since we've taken the conifer out they now seem to be bulking up more quickly.


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