Notholirion thomsonianum

Jim McKenney
Thu, 21 Apr 2011 06:50:56 PDT
I got a call from a gardening friend yesterday who had a plant blooming in her garden which she had never seen before. This is someone who knows plants well and grows a staggering variety of plants. She tried to describe it to me on the phone:  basal leaves with a flower stem about a foot and a half high , pink flowers, some sort of bulb. The first thing which popped into my mind was a pink-flowered Hyacinthoides, but I'm sure she knew those well. She wanted me to come see it before someone picked it (part of her gardening activities take place outisde of her own property).

I had a lot to do at the time, and I didn't get over to see the plant until just before dark. Talk about a WOW! exprience: the plant was Notholirion thomsonianum. I recognized it as a Notholirion, but did not realize that it was N. thomsonianum. The individual flowers were pale pinkish lilac and somewhat Lycoris-like, about two inches or a bit more in diameter.

There is more to the story, which I learned later that evening when I called my friend and talked to her husband. He had dug out their planting diagrams and had narrowed the identification down to two plants. One was N. thomsonianum.  I grow N. thomsonianum; my plant came from Jane McGary in 2006 and it has not yet bloomed, although it seems to be growing well. I was very curious about where they got their plant: he looked at their records again and said "Jane McGary, 2006"

Too funny - what a small world. 

I had some doubts about my specific identification of the plant I saw. For one thing, I expected N. thomsonianum to have white flowers of narrow bell shape. The plant I saw has lilac-pink flowers which very similar in shape to Lycoris flowers.  If you Google Notholirion thomsonianum images, you'll see plants like the one I saw. From an ornamental point of view it's a beautiful plant.

This plant is much handsomer than I had expected.

It also bears an uncanny resemblance superficially to, of all things, Hesperocallis undulata. The flower color is different, and the Notholirion does not have undulate leaves, but the poise, stockiness, flower size and placement, overall size are all very similar. Are they related, or is this an example of convergent evolution? 

I got some pictures, but the light was poor and I did not have a tripod so most are only adaquate. I'll try to get back soon to get better pictures - it's a fifty mile high speed round trip with the potential for major traffic jams mid-trip each way.  In the mean time, if someone whould like to post one of the images to the wiki, I'll be glad to send it on. 

You can see it here:…

Jim McKenney

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