Sea Daffodil ( Pancratium maritimum)
Sea Daffodil - Pancratium maritimum
Pancratium is a genus of about 21 species of perennial, herbaceous and bulbous plants in the family Amaryllidaceae, subfamily Amaryllidoideae, which latter also includes the genera Narcissus (true daffodils) and Galanthus (snowdrops). The genus is found along the coastline of the Mediterranean area extending to the Canary Islands, tropical Africa and tropical Asia. The flowers are large, white and fragrant. The perianth tube and the corona are present. It differs from the similar Hymenocallis in its numerous seeds with a thin black skin. Plants belonging to the genus Pancratium have been found in prehistoric Cretan frescoes.
The name "Pancratium" is derived from the Greek and means "all-strength", probably referring to the strength of a plant that can tolerate extreme climates. Pancratium species often inhabit extremely dry and sandy areas.
Pancratium maritimum, or sea daffodil, is a species of bulbous plant native to the Mediterranean region and south-western Europe. That plant can also be seen on the south Bulgarian and north Turkish coasts of Black Sea, where it is threatened with extinction. It grows on coastal sands or just above the high tide mark. Other vernacular names are Sand Daffodil, Sand Lily and the Lily of St. Nicholas. The Latin maritimum means "of the seashore"
and this indicates where it lives: the habitat of P.maritimum is the maritime sands on the sandy beaches in the immediate vicinity of the sea and it often produces dense stands. This habitat is characterized by direct exposure to the sun and the sea winds and to continuous sprays of salt water droplets carried by the wind.
This monocotyledonous herbaceous perennial flowers during the hottest months of summer. It can withstand these extreme conditions because its large bulb (about 5 - 7cm across) is buried deep underground and because it grows in sand, it is not that difficult for its shoots to make their way up through half a meter of loose coastal sands.
P. maritimum is a bulbous perennial with a long neck and glaucous, broadly linear leaves, evergreen, but the leaves often die back during hot summers.
The Sea Daffodil flowers from July until October with large, funnel-shaped flowers, 3 – 15 in every umbel, fragrant and white. The flowers are pure white, very large up to 15 cm long (from which the pedicel is less than 1 cm) and 6 – 8 cm across, with a funnel-shaped crown, white striped with a little green line on the outside of the 6 tepals, which are near the base fused with the filaments of the stamens, on a stout stem up to 45 cm high, above 2 spathes or thin, paper-like bracts.
The flowers have a pleasing, exotic and very subtle lily scent, which only becomes apparent during still, windless summer nights that allow the delicate fragrance to become perceptible. This fragrance is so strong that it is said that the strong perfume of the flowers keep sheep away from the coasts.
The long narrow perianth segments are almost linear and 40 – 50 mm long. The very long, funnel-shaped 12-toothed corona actually consists of the fused filaments of the stamens and can measure up to 65 mm long and 40 - 50 mm wide, with the stamens at its margin. (Note about the perianth segments: because the 3 sepals and the 3 petals are identical they are referred to as 6 tepals). The margin of the corolla tube is “decorated” by 12 triangular teeth, this way making the corona of the flower look like a ....crown (corona means .... crown !!!). There are two of these teeth between every of the 6 anthers (i.e. 12 teeth). The buds look like little raised fingers, enhanced with white and green stripes. The 6 tepals frame the corona in the way that it looks like a daffodil, giving the plant its common name Sea Daffodil.
The leaves appear at the end of autumn and look like long, about 2 cm wide and half a meter long, linear ribbons and by the time of flowering they have already withered and frequently the dead leaves have disappeared by sun and winds before the flowers emerge from the sand. These leaves are often twisted in a spiral.
The fruit is a large (up to 6 cm long) 3-valved capsule that at maturity opens at the sides of the 3 carpels, exposing the 10 to 40 very black seeds. These seeds have an irregular shape and look like pieces of charcoal and they simply drop out of the opened capsule into the sand. They are probably dispersed by the wind and sea as they easily fload on the water.
The Hebrew name for the flower is khavatselet ha-Khof, closely related to the rose of Sharon (khavatselet ha-Sharon) mentioned in the Song of Solomon. It is commonly assumed by most people in Israel that, the Sharon plain being on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the biblical passage refers to this flower.
The spreading of the Pancratium Lily in Greece during the modem age, and particularly in the islands of the Aegean Sea, has been subject for study for botanists and archaeologists. Gustav Hegi (1931), describing the foreign plants of the Amaryllidaceae family mentions that this plant belongs to the most interesting plants in the Mediterranean.
The first representation of the Pancratium Lily is mentioned by Arthur Evans, who discovered it during the excavations he made in the palace of Knossos (1896). There is a painting of this plant in the well-known wall painting with the blue-bird in the palace of Knossos which is considered as the first representation of the Sea Daffodil. Its use is described by Dioscorides and Theophrastus.
The plant is pollinated by a hawk-moth named Agrius convolvuli. These insects visit the flower when the speed of the wind is under 2 metres per second (6.6 ft/s). When it's higher than that the moths does not visit the Pancratium plant. Even if the species is pollinated in an artificial way during windy weather the pollination is not effective. Another specific of the sand lily is that it is not receptive to its own pollen and the plant can recognize it. This flower can be only cross-pollinated.
Fabrizio Grassi cs (Biodiversity and Conservation 14: 2159 – 2169, 2005) wrote an article called: “Evaluation of biodiversity and conservation strategies in Pancratium maritimum L. for the Northern Tyrrhenian Sea”. According to these scientists, pollination is reported to be due to different organisms: the very large Sphinx (= Agrius) convolvuli L.(the convolvulus hawk-moth) in Southern France, sphingid moths in Isreal, or the lizard Podarcis lilfordi on the Balearic Islands.
P. maritimum is easily grown but requires a very sunny position and a very well drained, sandy soil. Needs hot summers to induce flowering and is often a shy bloomer in cooler climates. Hardy to USDA zone 8. Tolerates temperatures down to about ?5 °C (23 °F). Propagation by seeds or division after flowering. Seedlings may flower in their third or fourth year.