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What is Nerine?

Bethney Foster
Bethney Foster

Nerine is the scientific genus made up of about 30 different species of flowering plants that grow from bulbs. The plants are native to South Africa and are in the family Amaryllidaceae. While popular with gardeners around the world, many species of Nerine bulbs will not survive outdoors in cold climates.

Most Nerine species grow in summer. A few of the species grow in winter, and a few are evergreen. The flowers are popular for cut arrangements because they retain their freshness longer than many types of flowers.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The name comes from the Nereids, who were sea nymphs in Greek mythology. The plants are also sometimes commonly called Guernsey lilies. According to legend, a box of bulbs was lost from a passing ship and washed up in Guernsey, England. The bulbs established themselves where they came ashore.

The Nerine produces a single stem, about 11 inches (30 cm) tall, in the autumn. At the top of the stem is a cluster of flowers, made up of long, curling petals. Each flower is about 1.5 inches (4 cm) wide. Most species produce pink flowers, with some species blooming in pinkish colors that are closer to coral or orange.

After flowering in the autumn, the plant is dormant until late winter or early spring. It then produces several leaves, with each leaf being as much as 7 inches (20 cm) long. These leaves die by early summer, and the bulb is again dormant until fall.

Nerine bulbs are about 1.5 inches (4 cm) in diameter. The bulbs should be planted in the spring, with only the neck of the bulb above the soil. They prefer a well-drained soil, and a mixture of loam, sand, and compost is recommended for growing in containers. Several hybridized versions are popular as potted plants and in gardens.

When cultivated, the plants need to be placed in nearly full sun. The plants require very little fertilizer, and even a minimal amount of fertilize can sometimes cause damage to the plants. Water should be withheld until the bulb begins to produce flower spikes. After the spikes appear, water should be given throughout the season. Nerine species thrive under overcrowded condition.

Nerine bowdenii is one of the most popular species with gardeners. Also called the Japanese spider lily and the cape flower, this species can survive colder temperatures than some of the others. Also popular is the Nerine samiensis, which produces flowers that have an orange tint to them.

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