You might say that it was shipped in.

Legend has it that, back around the beginning of the 19th century, a Dutch ship sailing north from the Cape of Africa was wrecked off the Yorkshire coast near Scarborough, England. Among the items looted from that ship by the locals were bulbs that looked similar to daffodil bulbs.

If they expected their plunder to bloom yellow, however, Scarborough’s residents must have been disappointed. Instead, those bulbs would have made strappy leaves like those of amaryllis and 3 to 4-inch funnel-shaped orange-red blooms in clusters.

Hence, the flower became known as the Scarborough lily. It also is called the fire lily though it is available in white (‘Alba’) and pink (‘Delicata’ or ‘Pink Diamond’) as well as red. And it sometimes goes by George lily too, probably because it is native to the Outeniqua Mountains near George, South Africa.

Cyrtanthus elatusOriginally dubbed Vallota speciosa after French botanist Pierre Vallot, it eventually would be reclassified as Cyrtanthus elatus. However, its outward or upward facing flowers are a far cry from the dangly ones more typical of that genus.

The Scarborough lily’s blooms do bear some resemblance to amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp) and generally appear in clusters of four to nine, but the plant’s culture is more similar to that of clivia (Clivia spp). Like the latter, it resents root disturbance and flowers best when crowded. So, if you place a single, blooming-size bulb in a pot, you probably can leave it there until it fills in all the space with extra bulbs and plantlets.

If you must repot it, do so immediately after it flowers. Keep in mind that the offset bulbs will need to grow for 3 or 4 years to reach blooming size. You’ll want to position each bulb, as you would an amaryllis bulb, with its neck and the top of its “shoulders” protruding from the soil.

You can let the plant go semi-dormant in winter by cutting back a bit on water and placing it in a cool, bright room with temperatures in the 50s Fahrenheit. However, you should never let it completely dry out and die back as amaryllis does or you may risk losing it altogether. Once spring arrives, keep the plant on a warm, sunny, south-facing windowsill, eventually moving it to a sunny position outdoors if possible.

Cyrtanthus elatusGardeners in zones 9b through 11 can grow it in the ground, but should plant it deeper, with its bulb’s tip just below the surface of the soil. Where the plant is hardy, it’s best to leave at least 1 foot of space between bulbs to allow for their multiplication. The Scarborough lily generally blooms in late summer and early autumn when planted outdoors. However, it has been known to do so at other times of the year—as evidenced by the snow in toxicodendron’s photo above—when raised as a houseplant.

If you harvest seeds from your lily, keep in mind that they must be fairly fresh to sprout. So, if you can’t plant yours right away, place them in the refrigerator until you are ready to do so.

You can germinate them either in water or on “land.” For the former method, float them in a container of water which is wide enough that the seeds don’t touch—until each begins to send out a root. Once a seed's root is about 1/2 inch long, you can pot that one up.

Alternatively, you can press them into the surface of a container filled with a combination of seed-starting mix and sand and barely cover them with a light sprinkling of sand, keeping their mix damp until they germinate. I'm guessing that you'll have to wait several years to see flowers from seedlings too.

However, blooming size bulbs of Scarborough lily still are more widely available in the British Isles than they are here in the States. So you may have to grow them from seed if you want to take advantage of this once shipwrecked treasure.


Photos: The banner photo is by Fanie Avenant and the final photo by toxicodendron from the Dave's Garden PlantFiles. The antique image is by S. T. Edwards, from an 1812 issue of Curtis's Botanical Magazine, courtesy of plantillustrations.org.