Proiphys amboinensis

Cardwell lily


Proiphys amboinensis

(L.) Herb. 1821

pronounced: PROY-feez am-boy-NEN-siss

(Amaryllidaceae — the amaryllis family)

sometimes placed in Liliaceae - the lily family


common names: Cardwell Lily, northern Christmas lily

native 4Proiphys is from the Greek πρωι (proi), early in the day, and φυω (phyo), to bring forth; amboinensis is for the island of Ambon in Indonesia.

The plant is found in south-east Asia, Indonesia, PNG, on the coast of Queensland from Cape York south to about Mackay, and on parts of the Kimberley coast in Western Australia. It is usually found in light shaded areas of the rainforest or in open forest bordering rainforest regions.

Cardwell Lily grows quickly after the arrival of the wet season, producing large glossy kidney-shaped leaves with symmetrically curved venation. These are followed by attractive scented white flowers with yellow throats. The larger leaves can be over 25 cm long, and have a leaf petiole up to about 45 cm long. Each flower is about 5 cm wide with up to 18 flowers in a cluster on stalks over 50 cm long. Flowering typically begins about Christmas time and is followed by the production of green to blackish capsules 2.5 – 3 cm long. The leaves die away in the dry season.

These native bulbs are, surprisingly, not very well known, but they are ideal garden plants, well suited to under-planting of trees and shrubs, and for mass plantings in shaded corners.

The genus was formerly known as Eurycles; efforts to find the derivation of this older genus name have not proved very successful. The early part of the name is almost certainly from the Greek ευρυ (eury), broad, but the latter part of the word appears to be from κλης (klés), a door-key, which doesn’t make much sense. There is an exact ancient Greek word that fits – Ευρυκλης (Euryklés) was the name of a celebrated Greek ventriloquist who practised his art some 2000 years ago!

The genus contains two other species, Proiphys alba and Proiphys cunninghamii. The former occurs naturally in Australia on the western and southern shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and in the Kimberleys, while the latter is found from the Sunshine Coast south to about Byron Bay. Proiphys alba (which also occurs in PNG) occurs in large colonies in open forest. It is a hardy plant, and very attractive when it is in flower between November and February. The light green leaves are the smallest of the genus, and the fruit is globular and rather large. Proiphys cunninghamii, commonly called the Brisbane Lily, is the only species confined to Australia. It has dark green heart-shaped leaves carried on long upright stems.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009
Page last updated 20th March 2019