Wednesday, January 11, 2017

South African bulbs

Many of you know that the Cape region of South Africa is home to many of the world's most colorful bulbs. They are also in some cases - most notably for Gladiola, Ixia, Freesia and Sparaxis - the origins of hybrids that now are commonly found in garden centers and nurseries. South African (SAF) bulbs begin blooming in December with the early Lachenalia species and continue through May (the spring bloomers that is). Here are some select photos from my archives of various SAF bulbs, a little colorful preview of a spring show to come. I've posted them roughly in order of bloom time.

Lachenalia aloides 'Orange.' The very first SAF bulb in my garden to bloom (December).

This unknown Lachenalia species has a pretty light lavender bloom.

One of the most colorful of all Lachenalias, this L. tricolor is a real showboat!

My favorite SAF bulb, Ferraria crispa is so weird yet so lovely.

Here's the oh so chocolatey Ferraria crispa ssp crispa (dark form).

This peacock moraea is well named. M. villosa is simply one of the most gorgeous flowers in existence. 

Moraea atropunctata. Although this isn't that great a shot it's the best I have of my short-lived and now deceased moraea. They're rare and I haven't found it since I bought it back in 2011. Really a spectacular flower, with the beautiful chocolate spotting against an alabaster white background.

Gladiolus 'Lemon Moon.' Very lovely species glad that luckily is still being propagated and sold.

Sparaxis elegans. Has the distinctive center ring and the common pink 'eye.'

This Sparaxis grandiflora ssp grandiflora doesn't at first glance look like a Sparaxis at all (petals aren't round, no center ring or eye).  It's a beauty nonetheless.

Though this isn't a great shot, I wanted to include a shot of my not-rare-but-hard-to-find Melasphaerula ramosa. It's prolific and self seeds everywhere so is easy to share with friends. Sprays of these gladiola-like white flowers appear in March and April. Very sweet.

Another common-but-hard-to-find SAF bulb is this colorful Chasmanthe bicolor. It too is prolific (some would say invasive) and will self seed wherever it can (although my specimen has behaved itself).

Babiana variety. Not sure which one this is but it's a solid purple. Babianas are one of the easiest and most reliable SAF bulbs to grow.

Babiana stricta. This is the most common of the Babiana species and there are many hybrids.

Although there are plenty of weedy grasses here, this shot shows the sprays of Babianas as they reach for the sky. Babianas typically only get to a foot tall.

This lovely creature is an Ixia Buttercup. Ixias (Corn Lilies) are also very easy to grow. I lump Ixias, Freesias and Sparaxis together because they all come up in early to mid-spring, they're all reliable and easy to grow and they all naturalize in your garden.

Ixia monadelpha. This lesser known Ixia is a lovely splash of white in the spring garden.

There's subtle and then there's Ornithogalum dubium. Brilliant orange flowers stack one on another is an upwards little pyramid.

Last but not least is Anomatheca laxa, a Freesia relative that produces masses or coral-pink flowers in late spring. Liking shade and a prolific self-seeder, you plant a couple and just let them colonize an area.


  1. Thank you so much! I passed by your place. It is amazing.

  2. Most of the plants you have named here, do so well in a part of Uganda nicknamed the vermont or Jerusalem of Uganda. The place is called Bukomansimbi District. I am compiling a blog for them and I have kindly have used some of your pictures. Thanks once again.


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