Crinum macowanii

River lily


river crinum, river lily, common vlei-lily, Sabie crinum, Cape coast lily (Eng.); rivierlelie, boslelie, Sabielelie (Afr.); intelezi (isiXhosa); umduze (isiZulu)


Derivation of name and historical aspects

The name of the genus Crinum is from the Greek krinon meaning lily. This species is named after Peter MacOwan (1830-1909), a British teacher who first studied chemistry, came to South Africa in 1862 to take up the post of principal at Shaw College in Grahamstown, then took up botany. He formed the South African Botanical Exchange Society to facilitate the supply of duplicate specimens for overseas collectors. He moved to Gill College, Somerset East in 1869, then moved to Cape Town in 1881 and was appointed director of the Cape Town Botanic Garden (it was established in 1848 where the Company Gardens are today, but failed) and curator of the Cape Government Herbarium and took up the chair of botany at the South African College (now the University of Cape Town). In 1892 he became Government Botanist and gave up the directorship and chair. He retired in 1905.

Crinum is a genus of between 60 and 100 species distributed in the tropics and temperate regions of Africa, Asia, Australia and America. The number is uncertain because crinums are particularly difficult to assess from dried herbarium specimens and are thus difficult to name correctly, e.g. field studies can reveal that what was thought to be one variable species is in fact a number of distinct species. There are 22 species recognised in southern Africa, where they are widespread in the summer-rainfall region.

Plant parts used

Bulbs and leaves.

Medicinal Uses / Ethnopharmacological uses

Crinum macowanii bulbs and leaves are used in traditional medicine in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal and in many parts of Africa. Bulbs are used to treat kidney and bladder infections, tuberculosis, swelling of the body, scrofula, rheumatic fever, itchy rashes, sores, boils and acne, backache, venereal disease, to stimulate milk and to make protective charms. Leaves are used as poultices and bandages. The bulbs contain toxic alkaloids, and should be used with caution. Various species have been used as arrow poisons.

Health benefits


Crinum macowanii is a variable and widespread species. It occurs in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Limpopo and North-West, and in Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique and further northwards to east Africa.

It grows in many habitats, such as vleis, mountain grassland, seasonally flooded grassland, savanna, deciduous woodland, beside rivers and along the coast, and in various soils, such as gravely soil, shale or sandy flats.



Botanical Description

Crinum macowanii has spectacular, fragrant, pink-striped white lilies in summer. It is easy and rewarding to grow and ideal for wet parts of the garden.
Crinum macowanii is a deciduous, summer-growing bulb. The bulbs are large, 60-250 mm in diameter, with perennial fleshy roots. The leaves are large, variable, up to 1 m long and 20-200 mm wide, bright green to bluish green, fleshy and strap-like with undulating margin.
The flowers are large, bell-shaped, strongly sweet-scented white lilies with dark pink stripes, produced in umbels of 5 to 25 flowers on the tip of a long stalk, up to 1.1m tall. Flowering season is early summer (October to December). The fruit is a capsule of 3-6 irregularly shaped large (±20mm diameter) smooth, pale green to silvery, fleshy seeds or occasionally up to 20 small seeds.

Preparation and Dosage

Active Ingredients

Pharmacological Effects





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