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

Narcissus tazetta x italicus (left) and Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’

February 25th, 2004
A Tale of Two Narcissus

One of the bulbs I found in my garden when I moved in over ten years ago was a Narcissus tazetta cross. These narcissus (in contrast to the paperwhite narcissus) have wide strappy dark green leaves, yellow cups, bloom later, a much more pleasant scent, and thrive year after year on heavy clay soil without much attention.

So based on Scott Ogden’s description in Garden Bulbs for the South and the fact that I live in an older Austin neighborhood, I was pretty sure my N. tazetta was ‘Grand Primo’. But I had some doubts. Scott Ogden said that ‘Grand Primo’ blooms in late February and mine usually begin blooming on New Year’s Day (depending on the amount of rain in November and December). The few photos I found confused me more. My tazetta has distinctly separate, thin, pointed, petals which tend to twist back slightly, forming wind-blown stars. Other photos of ‘Grand Primo’ show overlapping petals that curve inward.

This season, with its unusually dry December and an unusually wet February, provided an answer to the mystery. I have two different tazetta crosses. The flower on the left bloomed as usual beginning in January. But then three more clumps came up much later than the rest, with slightly shorter leaves and scapes. When they began blooming a couple of weeks ago, I could see the difference.

I think that the flower on the left is Narcissus tazetta v. italicus. The one on the right could be ‘Grand Primo’ or even ‘Avalanche’.

If it ever stops raining (did I actually say that?), I’ll take some more photos.

Update: February 5, 2008

Update: December 25, 2015

Today a fourth Narcissus tazetta opened. This has been a good year because of the heavy rain on October 30 and throughout November. I find it very difficult to tell one little narcissus apart from another in photographs (especially close ups). I need a side-by-side comparison. So here is a note to my future self.

From left to right: unknown paperwhite narcissus, Narcissus ‘Grandiflora’, Narcissus tazetta x italicus, Narcissus tazetta var orientalis ‘Chinese Sacred Lily’.

Update: February 13, 2020

This year both the italicus and ‘Grand Primo’ bloomed better than ever. I was ahead of schedule weeding and feeding them. And we got good rains at the end of December and early January.

As usual, the italicus bloomed first. But the ‘Grand Primo’ was right behind so that there was a bit of overlap. In one bed in the front of the house where they got mixed in together, the dark green foliage of the ‘Grand Primo’ was distinctively different than the lighter gray foliage of the italicus. But the italicus is still larger and strappier than the typical paperwhites.

Oddly, this year, it was ‘Grandiflora’ that bloomed first (in December)…weeks before the unnamed paperwhites or the italicus.