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Trouble-Free Lilies Can Be Raised to a Vine Art Form

Gardening: The robust grower thrives in moist, rich soil. All it demands is sturdy support and room to roam.

February 17, 1996|KAREN DARDICK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The little-known Beaumontia grandiflora is hailed by horticulturists as one of the showiest vines in Southern California. Better known as the Easter lily vine or herald's trumpet, this vine produces fragrant white flowers from early spring through late summer.

"It's a wonderful plant," said Brad Carter, assistant director of the UC Irvine Arboretum. "We have one growing on a lathe structure here at the arboretum, and it's a trouble-free plant that thrives on little care."

The Easter lily vine is a robust grower that needs a great deal of space to sprawl. Originally from the Himalayan region of India, it thrives in moist, rich soil, likes humid conditions and requires ample sun for flower production.

It can reach from 15 to 30 feet at maturity. The vine climbs by producing semi-twining arching stems that, over time, develop into thick, woody bases, so the plant requires strong support.

Funnel-shaped flowers are 4- to 5-inches long and equally wide. The blooms resemble Easter lilies, as the common name indicates, and produce a fragrance similar to gardenias. The green-veined white flowers are frequently tipped with pink or red.

Oval leaves are glossy deep green, and, although the vine is evergreen, it tends to shed old leaves in midwinter as new leaves appear.

The plant is not prone to attacks by insects and is free of most disease.

"This is a plant that needs lots of room to grow, but with that condition, should do very well in most areas of Orange County," Carter said. "It's hardy to 28 degrees, which means it will tolerate a few days of temperatures in the low 20s but could die in a hard freeze. It thrives along the coast. It's a big plant but can be controlled by careful pruning."

The Easter lily vine flowers only on old growth of at least two or three years. Hard pruning should be done immediately after the vine's flowering ends, usually late summer or early fall. This will control its size and density and stimulate lateral growth.

It takes several years for the vine to become established while it produces its root system and green growth, so flowering won't occur for at least three years after planting. Lew Whitney, president of Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar, said it took five years at Casa Pacifica, the former Western White House in San Clemente.

"It's growing near garage buildings and didn't begin to flower until it reached the level of the tile roof, where it sprawls," he said. "It probably needed the roof's heat and sun. A nice way of growing it is espaliered on a warm wall, protected from wind, where the fragrance can be appreciated."

Shirley Kerins of Huntington Beach recommends landscaping near swimming pools with the Easter lily vine. "It's a superb vine because it's clean and tidy, doesn't create a lot of mess and won't clog the [pool] filters. It's also effective against a house, where it can be trained along the eaves so the fragrance can waft into the dwelling."

Some landscape specialists recommend letting it climb through large trees where it will then arch downward or growing it as a very large, mounding shrub.

But experts caution against planting it in a small landscape.

"It's a very attractive plant, but pretty aggressive and doesn't lend itself to a smaller home situation," said Rico Montanegro, assistant director of the UC Fullerton Arboretum.

An Easter lily vine has been growing on the UC Fullerton campus, in a courtyard in University Center, for more than a dozen years.

Experts recommend giving the vine ample water but avoid creating soggy soil. It should also be fertilized in early spring with an all-purpose garden fertilizer, although Carter said that the vine at the UC Irvine Arboretum flourishes without any fertilization.

Although the vine is appreciated by landscape experts, it's not widely grown because it isn't sold at most nurseries.

Approximately 100 one- and five-gallon ($10 and $25) containers of Easter lily vines will be sold at the UC Irvine Arboretum Spring Open House on March 2 and 3. Other plants for sale during the event will include several hundred tubers of dahlias, pots of blooming South African bulbs and rare plants from the arboretum's collection.

The Spring Open House will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event will also offer self-guided tours of the arboretum's South African bulb collection and gardens and tours of the San Joaquin Marsh. The arboretum is on the UCI North Campus, south of the corner of Campus Drive and Jamboree. Admission is $3 per person, free for children and members of the Friends of the UCI Arboretum.

For information, call (714) 824-5833.

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