Tender leaflosing (deciduous) bulbs which bear attractive fragrant flowers. They are natives of tropical Asia, Algeria, Egypt, Arabia, the Mediterranean region and Canary Islands, and belong to the Amaryllis family, Amaryllidaceae.
These plants, which are closely related to Hymenocallis, have large, long-necked, tunicated bulbs (covered with large scales—the coats or tunics) and long, strap-shaped leaves up to 2 ft. in length. The flowers are borne in umbels on the ends of stout scapes (flower stalks). They are white, tubular at the base, 2-3 in. long, and are composed of six long, narrow perianth segments (petals) surrounding a large, cup-shaped corona. Pancratium flowers in summer or winter according to the kind. The name Pancratium is derived from pan, all, and kratys, potent, and refers to the plant’s supposed medicinal properties.
Greenhouse Plants with Fragrant Flowers. When grown in greenhouses, as they must be except in southern Florida and similar mild climates, those from tropical regions need a minimum temperature of 55 degrees, those from the Mediterranean region 45 degrees. The best soil consists of two parts of sandy loam, one part of decayed manure and half a part of sand.
Repotting is done each March, until the plants reach the flowering stage, after which they are repotted once in three or four years. The plants are taken out of the pots and the crocks, as well as any loose soil which can be removed without disturbing the roots, are taken away. They are
then potted in slightly larger pots. These are well drained with crocks, which should be covered with a layer consisting of the rough, fibrous material from the loam. After the plants are repotted, the soil is not watered until new leaves commence to push up from the bulbs. Then it is thoroughly saturated and is kept moist throughout the summer.
Details of Management. Older plants which have reached the flowering stage are kept growing vigorously for several years by top-dressing annually in spring. A little of the old soil is removed with a pointed stick and replaced with fresh compost. From May to September liquid fertilizer should be applied occasionally.
The atmosphere of the greenhouse must be kept moist by frequently damping the floor and benches, and the foliage should be syringed daily during sunny weather in summer. When the leaves begin to turn yellow, water is gradually withheld and the soil is kept dry during the winter. A light position in the greenhouse is necessary, but they should be shaded from bright sunlight. The leaves must be sponged or sprayed occasionally with insecticide to keep down thrips, red spider mites and mealybugs.
Propagation is principally by offsets or small bulbs which form at the bases of the older ones. They are taken off in spring or summer and half-buried in a seed pan, which is well drained and filled with prepared compost. This consists of equal parts of loam, leaf mold, peat and sand, sifted through a fine sieve. It is essential that the seed pan be well drained with crocks. When a few roots have formed, each plant is potted separately in a 3-in. pot.
When sowing seeds, prepare the flower pans as described for the offsets and sprinkle the seeds thinly on the surface. Cover them with a thin layer of fine soil and moisten by immersing the pan to its rim in water. Then cover it with a pane of glass and set in a propagating case in the hothouse.
When the seedlings have formed a pair of leaves, transplant them, 1 1/2 in. apart, in a deeper pan filled with a similar compost, but in a slightly coarser state. They must be kept moist and growing throughout the winter; they must not be dried off. In the following spring they should be potted separately in 3-in. pots and subsequently into larger ones.
Outdoors in the South. When these plants are cultivated outdoors in the South, the site should be carefully prepared. Unless the soil is well drained, it should be removed to the depth of 2 ft. Six inches of drainage, consisting of broken bricks or stones, is placed in the bottom and covered with pieces of turf. The remainder of the space is then filled with three parts of sandy loam and one part of well-decayed manure or leaf mold or good compost with sand added freely.
When to Plant. The bulbs are planted 3 in. deep in spring. During the summer the soil is kept moist and a mulch of compost or welldecayed manure applied. The bulbs should not be disturbed for several years, or until they show signs of deterioration. Then they should be lifted and divided. New compost is added and the best bulbs are replanted. The smaller ones are planted in a nursery bed if it is desired to increase the stock.
The Chief Kinds. Tropical: P. canariense, 18 in., white, autumn; P. zeylanicum, 15 in., white, summer. From the Mediterranean region: O. illyricum, 15 in., white, summer; and O. maritimum, 18 in., white, summer.
In the United States, plants grown under the name of Pancratium often belong properly in the genus Hymenocallis.