Monday, August 4, 2014

the search for black dragon

When I was a kid, I wanted a Black Dragon. This was, of course, long (long) before Toothless the Night Fury dragon in How to Train Your Dragon. The dragon I wanted was Lilium 'Black Dragon'. Yes, the Black Dragon that I wanted was toothless, but it was also fragrant, and how, I ask you, can a plant-freak kid like me resist a name like Black Dragon, especially while reading The White Dragon, by Anne McCaffrey? I never did get my Black Dragon as a kid. When I was designing my front courtyard, I wanted something that would connect the white 'Iceberg' roses...

 ...with the dusky plum leaves of Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple'...
I immediately thought of L. 'Black Dragon' (ignoring that the lilies would be in bloom for only a short time).
image from The Lily Garden

Since Sunset's Western Garden Book describes it as "The most common selection..." of L. luecanthum centifolium, I figured it would be easy, right? Wrong. On-line, I read one description that it is thought to be no longer in existence, and that the original strain was collected from a cottage garden in China that no longer exists (being bulldozed by "progress"). Although 'Black Dragon' was supposed to have remarkably dark exteriors (hence the "black" in the name), it was also supposed to be particularly vigorous with candelabras of up to 50 flowers. I can't believe that they don't exist in someone's garden somewhere, though. So my search for 'Black Dragon' began.

The Lily Garden didn't have 'Black Dragon' but it did have L. leucanthum, which is actually the image shown above, since I could not find an image on the web of the famous selection that I long for. I bought a few, and the one flower that it produced last year, did have a nice flower, but not really distinguished from L. regale. This year, more flowers, but also not the purple reverse, and not the dramatic flaring curly trumpets.

My other substitute for 'Black Dragon' was 'Silk Road' which bloomed well this year...until trashed by the winds.

'Silk Road' is nice, and wins popularity contests year after year. It has a purplish reverse, but also a red-purple interior, and is only loosely trumpet shaped. Not really what I was searching for, but it is a nice lily. It does need protection from the wind, as does any large flower.

I was excited to find that McClure and Zimmerman offered something called 'Black Dragon' with a nice photo (from archival?). I immediately ordered. I knew immediately that it wasn't what I hoped for, when the leaves emerged broad and thick. L. leucanthum has narrow leaves. This is what bloomed:

It looks like someone got confused, and they were selling 'Black Beauty' or something similar as 'Black Dragon' which is a totally different lily, a different class of lily, with a vaguely similar name. I notice that they are not offering 'Black Dragon' this year, and are offering 'Black Beauty' which is a nice enough lily, but not what I wanted, not what I had in mind for the garden, and not very fragrant.

I notice that The Lily Garden is not offering L. leucanthum this year, either. So the search continues.


  1. source for Black Dragon Bulbs....

    1. Yes! That's exactly where I ordered from and they gave me the lilies in the bottom two photos above. I don't think they know what they are selling...