The river lily grows from bulbs and flowers between September and December. A long solid stalk arises from the main plant and the bell-shaped flowers umbellate from it. There are normally 5 flowers which are radially arranged around the top of the stalk. The flowers can range from white to dark pink and have a delicate fragrance. Crinum Macowenii produce large amounts of nectar for their pollinators; sometimes non pollinating insects such as ants may "steal" the nectar.
The river lily's full Latin name is Crinum Macowenii. Other common names for it are vlei-lily, Sabie crinum and Cape coast lily. The plant is named after Peter MacOwan (1830-1909), English botanist and teacher who collected and studied plants extensively in the Eastern Cape.
Out of all the crinum family the Crinum Macowenii is believed to be the easiest to cultivate. They are frost hardy, enjoy sun to semi-shade and when flowering needs a lot of water. The plant becomes dormant in winter and if disturbed then, the quality of flowering could be affected. Flowering can be expected after 3 years.
Crinum Macowenii has traditionally been used by farmers to increase the milk production of their cattle. Throughout the world Crinum species have been used traditionally to cure ailments and diseases. It has been found that the crinum genus produces alkaloids with the noted effects of relieving pain, preventing tumours and having antiviral properties. Recently a neural inhibitor has been found in the plant which is important in the approach to treating Alzheimer's disease.