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Crinum walteri | by Uluwehi Knecht
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Crinum walteri

Pictures taken just a moment ago! This rare desert gem opened a few hours ago and is currently emitting a powerful, fresh, pleasant scent, not unlike that of Brugmansia suaveolens. The flower will close by tomorrow morning. There is a slight chance it may try to re-open the following night, but in my experience this species' 2nd showing is not as spectacular with a weaker form and fragrance.


Crinum minimum** is the smallest Crinum species in South Africa and is at least one of the smallest in the world. I actually think that it is the smallest, but if there is one smaller I hope someone will point it out to me. Leaves 6-10cm long and 1-2mm wide with entire margins emerge from this petite bulb. This species has singular adaptations, entirely unique among SA Crinum. It inhabits hot and dry places that have prolonged droughts where the only rain arrives via erratic thunderstorms which can occur from Oct to April (Northwest Province). The leaves behave in the manner of Ammocharis coranica, dying back if it is too dry but returning in the same season when more water is available. Also this species will remain completely dormant and never grow leaves unless rainfall is sufficient, skipping consecutive years.¹


¹Craib C. 1997. Crinum minimum: One of South Africa's Most Unusual Bulbous Plants. Herbertia 52: 101-108.


**Update / Correction, 07 June 2012: Dave Lehmiller, a scholar of the genus Crinum has altered me to the fact that he believes the plant pictured here is C. walteri, a species often confused with C. minimum:


"Verdoorn made a number of errors in her Crinum synopsis because she was a herbarium specialist who rarely went into the field. One of her mistakes involved Crinum minimum. Verdoorn misidentified a bulb of Crinum walteri sent to her from Namibia; she published it as Crinum minimum, the latter being a bulb that had been collected and photographed in NW Zambia near the Angolan border by Milne-Redhead in the late 1940s; unfortunately, Milne-Redhead did not observe seeds and fruit (seed pods). Verdoorn not only included the mistake in her synopsis in Bothalia but also in Flowering Plants of Africa.


"As Verdoorn's work was considered the gold stand in South Africa in the 1970s, her interpretation carried the day. I knew that Verdoorn had erred because I saw Milne-Redhead's photographs and herbarium specimens at Kew plus I had collected Crinum walteri in Namibia and had a flowering bulb from the Transvaal. During our field trip in Zambia in 1994, we attempted to go to the remote site Milne-Redhead had reported, but there had been heavy rains in that region with the local grasses growing at eye level, so we abandoned the quest.


"However a few years ago I received an e-mail that an expedition including Jason and Nordal had gone to NW Zambia and found Milne-Redhead's Crinum minimum. It was indeed distinctly different from Crinum walteri -- major differences:


Crinum walteri -- zygomorphic flowers, beaked fruit, papillose seeds.

Crinum minimum -- actinomorphic flowers, non-beaked fruit, smooth seeds.


"The latter account was published in Kirkii Vol 18(2):151-168, 2006 by Zimuudzi et al.

If you look at the same Herbertia you cited, on pp47-49 I listed my arguments that Verdoorn had erred and that the correct name was Crinum walteri. The finding of the major differences between fruit and seeds really nailed down the coffin.

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Taken on May 22, 2012