Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Better watch out what you wish for!

Bulbine abyssinica
Just a few months ago I was despairing over having lost this little South African monocot not once, but twice. (When I highlight something like that, it's a signal you should click the link and look up Bulbine abyssinica in that post!). In that older blog I show an image of this plant photographed at 9000' on Sentinel--a peak on the border of Kwa-Zulu Natal, the Orange Free State and Phutadajaba. I planted the first specimens I got in more of a meadow planting before and they were never as robust as the one in the photograph. It really prefers a scree like this.

I hadn't realized my friend, Bill Adams of Sunscapes Nursery in Pueblo had been propagating this plant: I bought two--I should have bought more: it keeps blooming and blooming. Better watch out what you wish for: you may get it sooner than you expected!

Bulbine narcissifolia
THIS, however, is the prize of the genus, with wider, strap shaped leaves and much larger, showier flowers. I saw this repeatedly in the Drakensberg, but never got seed. Leave it to my colleague Mike Bone: he found and collected seed of this on an expedition to Lesotho with Munich Botanic Garden. It's been blooming for ages in our Steppe garden, where there are two specimens. I think this has enormous potential in horticulture.

But there are more: Back in 1995 I went on a fantastic bulb foray with the Indigenous Bulb Society of Cape Town led by Rod and Rachel Saunders, who were tragically murdered a few years ago in the Northern Drakensberg.  Not far from Middelpos we found Bulbinella elegans--a striking and desirable species found in the high karoo. Judging by how thickly it grows (if you clicked that link you would know!) it can't be too difficult to propagate. I know of no commercial source of bulb or seed for this

The ultimate prize, however, has to be Bulbinella latifolia v doleritica, with orange juice orange pokers. Alas, its range is lower down in the karoo--it's is not as likely to be as hardy as the others--but it would be worth trying in any case.

And if you research further, you will find dozens more species in these two genera: who ever thought these two obscure closely related genera could offer such promise in cold winter climates?


  1. I've seen these in South Africa but never thought they'd be hardy in Zone 6

  2. These remind me of the southeast native, Schoenolirion croceum.


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