A few weeks ago the answer would have been "no, I definitely have no plans to grow a Gymea lily from seed". Strange question of course, but it's a silly thing to do. Really dumb. The things take about eight years to flower when grown from seed. And so I'm having a go, simply because Pammy brought home a Gymea lily seed pod from a botanical illustration course she's doing at the Sydney Botanic Gardens. She's a temptress, that woman!
Here it is (and click on all photos to make them bigger, if you like). The botanical name is Doryanthes excelsa, and the last two photos in the blog, pinched from Google Images, show what the plant and the flower look like. Fancy a big 1.5m tall clump of strappy leaves from which a gigantic 5m (or taller) spike erupts, topped with an enormous, red nectar-filled flower? Yes? The Gymea lily is for you.
The seeds started spilling from the pod yesterday. It just peeled itself open at one end and out they spilled. Fairly big for seeds, and of course I don't have the foggiest idea how to sow these seeds, so this blog posting is just a report from 'day one', Pam's seedy proposition has proved irresistible. If I manage to get them going, I'll share anything I've learned later on.
The seed pod itself is about six inches (15cm) long and two inches (5cm) at its widest point. It contains hundreds of thin, almost papery, crescent-shaped seeds. But wait, what's that little metal thing creeping into the picture frame?
Why, it's Pammy's amazingly nifty holder-on-erer, infinitely adjustable with a magnifying glass at one end and alligator clip at the other. It's a brilliant little device for botanical illustrators to get very, very close to a flower (or other subject, such as a seed pod). Pammy says she thinks it was marketed as 'Helping Hands', which is a good name for it.
I've used it several times to take close-ups for this blog, and I thought 'what the hell, here's a peek behind the scenes in my low-budget outdoor photo studio' (which looks remarkably like our outdoor table and chairs).
As you can see, you can get very very close to your subject without disturbing it at all! Hold still...
As promised, the last two photos are of the plant itself. As the Gymea lilies aren't in bloom in my local area I couldn't get any good photos of them at the moment. But this was what I was looking for, a photo with people posing next to a Gymea lily in flower, to give you some sense of the enormous size of the thing. Page 22 of Google Images revealed this lovely bushwalking shot of Rebecca and Ian, taken near Wiseman's Ferry on the outskirts of Sydney. Thank you Rebecca and Ian, looks like you had a great bushwalk that day! And yes, the Gymea lily is native to the east coast of Australia, notably the greater Sydney region and the NSW Central Coast.
Also found way, way down the list on Google Images is this gorgeous illustration of the Gymea lily flower head, which is actually a cluster of flowers, by well-known botanical artist Beverly Allen, which came from the Sydney Botanic Gardens website. Thanks to all, and love your work, Beverly.
Gymea lilies are not rare by any means. You see them in the bush quite often, and in recent years it seems every local council in the area is planting them in parklands, sometimes even in traffic islands. They're everywhere. Most of them are grown from cuttings or by tissue culture, and hardly anyone sensible grows them from seed, as it takes around eight years for them to flower from seed.
I have nowhere to plant one of these in my garden, either, so the whole idea is simply insane, which has its own appeal, doesn't it? Step one is to find out how deep to sow the seed, in what kind of potting mix, how long they take to come up, etc etc etc. At this stage I'll be happy if I get some healthy little plantlets in a few months' time. Who knows, in between now and then I might even find someone willing to take on Phase Two – the eight-year wait?