Lilies & Nocturnal Seduction. There’s a word for that and it’s a silly, fun, lovely word…..

As nights warm up, a flashlight reveals the fluttering cloud above dark lily fields. Millions of moths.  The crinum lilies invite them.

Daytime those moths hunker down in the straw mulch.  But something more than shifting light calls them up from below. If you had a slow-motion camera and a fragrance detector, you could see the signals too. Around dusk, crinum flowers inflate. They get fatter, fuller, more turgid and their tips point upward.  The flowers, already open, open up more. They call, they release perfumes, heavy, sinking fragrances that spill out and fill up the spaces in the straw mulch below. Waking moths. Come and see what we have for you.

Dusk ’til about 10 p.m is all I get to see of the orgy. It belongs to amaryllids and sphingophils.  While I sleep, who knows what goes on out there beyond the barn.  I’m a morning guy, and luckily, the aftermath of the moon watching parties is beautiful.  Flowers and fragrance ’til the heat of the day.

Crinum amoenum photographed at 11:19 pm.

Some crinum really take this timing thing to extremes. The word amoenum means lovely in Greek. Those Greeks must have been late night party people as Crinum amoenum (photo right) doesn’t even open up until almost midnight.

I had to make a plan to photograph her through the night.  By 6 a.m. she’d close up tight.  She’s tiny too. Late night little party girl isn’t for me.

Jubilee sweeps me off my feet though. And those big brown early evening moths love her too.  During any after dinner walk, way before dark on a July night, her stunning flowers start pumping out Fruit Loop fragrance and moths come flying like toucans to a tamarind tree.

Check out this swarm of moths on Jubilee;


And Jubilee is a handsome, no a stunning, easy to grow, smallish crinum that works well in a pot.

You know, there is a word for all this. Sphingophilious — a great word isn’t it? Happy and kind of silly, intimidating at first glance but easy and fun; crinum and other sphingophilous plants attract nocturnal moths of the Sphingidae family— sphinx moths,  hawk moths and hornworms.   Almost all crinum do it.  We also grow Purple Jade Vine which does it too.

Jade Vine fruit and flower.  We’re one of the only places in the US to get this plant.

But I can’t go on and on about Jade Vine. That stunning flower has a funky fragrance. I love it, the big old vines cover our clothes line each summer.  It’s just the lilies that get me.  Here’a another video;

When Crinum jagus ratrayii opens, the one shown in time-lapse in the video, the whole place smells of vanilla.  It’s like a Hawaiian Tropic party but who’d use Hawaiian Tropic at night?  Moths, that’s who. Sphingophils.  And they do it without shame, even a spot light on them that some photographer shines to try to capture their lust doesn’t stop them.

I’m writing this in spring. So the saturnalia of the crinum fields hasn’t started yet.  But they’re out there.  Squirming around in the mulch, hatching and soon they’ll be climbing out in their brilliant spring clothes.  Getting ready for the transformation, the heat and smells of a summer time party.

Io moth caterpillar on Crinum Pink Flamingo

Io moth caterpillar on Crinum Pink Flamingo.   This picture is actually an Io moth caterpillar (not a Sphingidae.)   If you enjoyed the combination of prose and science, please read our latest book Funky Little Flower Farm.

Funky Little Flower Farm




  1. esanita on March 29, 2020 at 9:11 pm

    That io caterpillar is poisonous. One touch of its spines and you’ll know whyi.

    • Jenks Farmer on March 31, 2020 at 5:56 am

      Yes, I know from experience! We have saddle backs here too!

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