Chinese Sacred Lily
2007-12-21. Chinese Sacred Lily

December 21st, 2007
Narcissus Chinese Sacred Lily

I couldn’t decide which photo I liked better so I decided to post both of them. Chinese Sacred Lilies are neither from China nor lilies. Rather they are Narcissus tazetta v. orientalis and often forced for winter bloom like their cousins the paperwhites. Several people have written to me that they are associated with the Chinese new year, so that may be where we derive the “Chinese” in its common name. Elsewhere I’ve read that Chinese immigrants brought the bulbs to the US in the 1800s. Before that, however, they travelled along the Silk Road from Spain to China.

The individual flowers are about twice as large as the flowers of paperwhites. And, unlike the musky scent of some paperwhites which many people find offensive, the scent of Chinese Sacred lilies is deliciously citrus-y.

I have not found them to be good subjects for the garden, as Scott Ogden in Garden Bulbs for the South, suggests. Although the foliage comes back every year, they rarely flower in my Austin garden. I suspected that they require temperatures a bit colder than Austin. So last year I dug up a clump and chilled them for 8 weeks before replanting last month. These that are flowering are from the replanted bulbs I chilled. The clumps of unchilled bulbs are up but show no hint of flowers.

Chinese Sacred Lily

photo Narcissus tazetta Grand Primo
2003-01-08. Grand Primo Narcissus tazetta italicus. Austin, TX. Zone 8.

January 8th, 2003
Narcissus tazetta and Chinese Sacred Lily

The scent of paperwhites ushers in the New Year. I can’t stand the scent of the modern paperwhites, ‘Ziva’ and ‘Galilee’, but I’ve love the scent of their tazetta relative, Narcissus tazetta v. italicus. It is the scent of the first flower of the New Year.

I had always thought that N. italicus had a lovely, citrus-y scent. But over Christmas, when JQS was working at my desk, he said, “Mom, do you smell airplane glue or something?” I came over concerned and then laughed. “It’s just the flowers.”

If you don’t like the scent of paperwhites, try growing Narcissus tazetta v orientalis (the Chinese Sacred Lily) instead. It is scented with orange essence. I always buy bulbs to force and plant them out in the garden afterward where they come back year after year.

photo: Narcissus tazetta v. italicus

In this photo, the N. italicus are on the left and the Chinese Sacred Lily on the right. In my garden the N. italicus grow on stalks 20 to 24 inches tall, the Chinese Sacred Lily on stalks 12 to 14 inches tall.

The foliage of N. italicus is a much deeper green than the gray-green paperwhites, the strappy leaves are almost an inch wide. They grow straight and tall in the fall and finally flop over. Although they are my first narcissus to bloom, the leaves are the last to disappear in the spring. Sometimes it is May before I can divide them.

I always plant them where I can see them through a window from inside the house. Then even on a miserably cold day like today, I can enjoy the garden.

In Other People’s Gardens

I don’t really know if my bulbs really are Grand Primo as they were in the garden when I arrived. Mine don’t look anything like the photo at Old House Gardens.

However, mine do look like the Grand Primo pictured in this photo from the Stephen F. Austin State University. Notice how the cup is much smaller and a paler lemon yellow. Also the petals are slimmer and more pointed, often twisting back.

Although the same photo is enlarged here and these flowers do not have as narrow tapering petals as mine.

Update: February 25, 2004
I’ve corrected this post because I determined that I had two different Narcissus tazetta growing in my garden. For more information, see A Tale of Two Narcissus