I purchased this little beauty in 2003 from Logee's Greenhouses in Danielson, CT and mid-winter it never fails to prove its worth. It's a plant you can easily forget about as it sits quietly in its pot with nondescript grass-like foliage. A self-maintaining bulb that you take for granted and feel a bit guilty for the neglect you've cast on it for months when it suddenly bursts into a glory of dainty, sweet-scented tubular blossoms during the bleakest time of year.
The name Cyrtanthus refers to the curved flower tube and is derived from the Greek kyrtos meaning curved and anthos meaning flower. This species is named after Scotsman Mark McKen, a horticulturalist who became the first curator at the Durban Botanic Gardens in 1851 in South Africa. The Durban Botanic Gardens website refers to him colorfully as fiery, hard drinking, and rough and ready. Called "the professor", McKen was one of South Africa's classic plant hunters. Many of the indigenous plants at the botanic gardens still carry his name in their scientific plant names.
In addition to its ease of care, propagation is simple. Offsets are easily separated from the mother bulbs and its seeds germinate pretty quickly. I usually scatter them around the base of the bulbs and let them spring up freely from where they land.
I love this lily. It is a plant that demands nothing, makes for easy sharing with friends and family by popping a few offsets into a pot, and provides such satisfaction this time of year with its blooms. What a gift to the New England gardener's winter soul.