Guernsey Lily

Shocking pink close-up of Nerine in Kew’s Davies Alpine House  © Karen Andrews

Shocking pink. There is no other colour that describes it better. The Nerine flowers stand out in Kew’s Davies Alpine House.

Two Nerine umbels in Kew’s Davies Alpine House. © Karen Andrews

It’s a complicated flower. An umbel with up to 11 florets, dark pink in the middle  with frilly pink edges and ostentatious stamens. 

Breath-taking beauty of a Nerine inflorescence. © Karen Andrews

This is a flower that you simply have to take your time and appreciate from every angle. Meanwhile, the long stems wave in the breeze.

The inflorescence is borne on a long stem high above its leaves. © Karen Andrews


Kew’s sign on the plant’s pot identifies it as Nerine flexuosa, an Amaryllidaceae from the Cape Province of South Africa. According to Kew’s Plants of the World by Christenhusz, Fay and Chase (2017), this family contains 77 genera and around 2,140 species. The family is divided into 3 subfamilies:

  • Amaryllidoideae: best-known for Amaryllis, Daffodils and Snowdrops
  • Allioideae: best known for Onions and Chives
  • Agapanthoideae: Agapanthus is the sole genus with 7 species

The family was previously known as Alliaceae. There have been substantial reclassifications in Amaryllidaceae. It is a family of monocotyledons (monocots) that have long, narrow, linear leaves and mainly grow from bulbs. 

There were more Nerine outside the Davies Alpine House in the rockery area. These were unfortunately past their best and going over. Kew’s sign identified them as Nerine undulata.

Kew sign identifying the rockery plants as Nerine undulata
© Karen Andrews

Later research on the genus proved confusing. Online picture identifications did not always tally with my photographs. Unfortunately, Kew’s Plant List 1.1 does not show photographs to help confirm the plant identifications. Not only has the family been extensively reclassified, there seem to be two Nerines with the common name of Guernsey Lily.

Here are three of the best species:

Nerine bowdenii

  • the best-known and most readily available species 
  • RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM)
  • a hardy species that can be grown outdoors at sunny, base of wall or in pots
  • bright pink flowers with curled, wavy edges that are spaced out
  • available in other colours including white
  • long-lasting flowers considered good for cutting

Nerine sarniensis

  • a species that is valued in the greenhouse (needs frost protection)
  • RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM)
  • spherical head with up to 20 deep orange-pink flowers with wavy edges
  • scarlet flowers with conspicuous stamens and purple anthers
  • recognised by florists as a good cut flower

Nerine undulata

  • the RHS splits Nerine undulata into the Flexuosa and Crispa groups
  • a hardy species in a sheltered position or in mild, coastal areas of Britain
  • head of pink flowers with very narrow, crinkled petals
  • available in white and pink

Despite their exotic appearance, these are robust perennials. Both species are included in Ian Cooke’s Waterwise Gardening: Water, Plants and Climate – A Practical Guide (2008) – a book that highlights plants that thrive and/or survive in dry conditions. They are dormant in the summer. The foliage follows the flowers. 

The Nerine and Amaryllid Society’s website records four main UK growers: 2 in the Isle of Wight, Exbury Gardens, Bramdean House Garden and Bickham Cottage, South Devon. Growers also display their Guernsey Lilies at major flower shows.

The name and family classification history may be confusing, but there is no doubt that the Guernsey Lily is a beautiful flower. It is all the more to be appreciated for its bright colours and late flowering.

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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