Cardiocrinum is a very small genus of bulbous plants in the Liliaceae family, consisting of just three species. Cardiocrinum giganteum, which is the best known variety, has been grown in English gardens for many years, but it is fairly uncommon in the rest of the world. It is an imposing plant that grows very tall, up to 10 feet (3 m) or more, and produces up to 30 trumpet-shaped flowers. It is also known as Himalayan lily and is native throughout many parts of eastern Asia.
This giant lily is extremely fragrant, though some may find the strong scent to be offensive. The 6-inch-long (about 15-cm-long) flowers appear in early summer and continue blooming for several weeks. They are white with a reddish purple center and are very attractive to bees and butterflies. The leaves are large, tough and slightly heart-shaped, unlike most lilies, which have blade-like leaves. The largest leaves are at the plant’s base, with smaller ones growing up the flower stalk.
There are two other varieties of cardiocrinum, C. cordatum and C. cathayanum, which are uncommon and virtually unknown to most gardeners. Both of these species look similar to C. giganteum but are smaller with fewer flowers. They also have fewer leaves, with none appearing on the flower stalks.
These lilies need to be planted very shallowly, with the tips just barely covered with soil. They are woodland plants and should be planted in an area with at least partial shade and slightly damp soil. They rarely do well in dry climates and grow best in areas where the humidity is high.
It takes a great deal of patience to grow cardiocrinum from seed, because they may take anywhere from a few months to two years to sprout. Throughout this time the soil will need to be kept well watered, because seeds that are allowed to dry out will not germinate. Plants grown from seed are very slow to mature and can take as long as five years to grow large enough to produce flowers.
Unfortunately, after taking years to produce flowers, the cardiocrinum plant dies after it blooms. Each flower bulb, however, has several small bulblets attached to it; those bulblets will produce new small plants. Like those grown from seed, these plants may not flower for at least a few years and may take as long as seven years. Mature bulbs and their bulblets are relatively hardy, and can be left in the ground all year.