Bulbine latifolia (L.f.) Roem. et Schult.
From Latin: bulbus and Greek bolbos: an onion of bulb and inus– indicating resemblance or possession,
latifolia = wide leaves, curvata = curved
Pronunciation: BUL-bin-ee lat-ee-FOH-lee-uh
Common names: broad-leaved bulbine (Eng.); rooiwortel, geelkopieva (Afr.); incelwane (isiXhosa), ibhucu (isiZulu)
Bulbine latifolia is one of the largest species in the genus. They are found in Knysna along the sandstone cliff facing the Lagoon. You will see them clinging onto the top sandstone ledges, just above the conglomerate strata. They suffered somewhat when we had the fire last year, but I was delighted to see a few survived and are showing some promise that the colony will recover and flourish again. In my own garden they also managed to cling on to life: healing took place during the summer and autumn months and now they are rewarding me with a fantastic show.
They can easily be identified by their aloe-like growth. The leaves are triangular-lanceolate with faint lines and an absence of marginal teeth on the leaves. They bear elongated racemes of small yellow flowers.
There seem to 2 variants: the one growing in Knysna is Bulbine latifolia var.curvata. The leaves of this variant re-curves slightly, and are soft and very fleshy. Distribution is from Knysna to Eastern Cape.
Bulbine latifolia var. latifolia has more upright and stiffer leaves that are also significantly darker in colour. The flower stems are also slightly longer than B.latifolia var.curvata, and more showy, making this species a wonderful garden subject. B.latifolia var.latifolia is restricted to Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga.
Bulbine latifolia is pollinated by insects. The ascending inflorescence with fruiting capsules and winged seed is an adaptation to being wind dispersed. Fleshy leaves store water and making it drought tolerant and an ideal water wise garden plant. This plant is well adapted to disturbance such as grazing and trampling as it regenerates easily from seed.
Bulbine latifolia is popular with traditional healers. The roots are used, taken orally to quell vomiting and diarrhoea, but also for a number of other ailments, including diabetes and rheumatism (Van Wyk et al 1997). The leaf sap is used to treat wounds, burns, eczema, rashes and itches.
I have found that slicing the leaf in half and placing the juicy parts on sunburned or steam burned areas not only gives instant relief, but also there is no blistering.
Growing Bulbine latifolia:
It is best grown in full sun. The soil should preferably be enriched with compost. It also grows well in containers with a sandy mixture enriched with compost.
It is relatively pest free, but may have occasional fungal infection causing dark leaf spots. These can be treated with a fungicide.
This fast grower is ideal for a new garden, thriving especially when massed on rockeries and embankments. The plants live from 5-8 years and are best replaced when they lose vigour.
Seed can be harvested in summer and autumn and stored until the warmer months for planting. Leave them to mature a little before attempting to lift them and planting into pots. The tiny leaves are very tender and brittle, so handle with extreme care when potting them up.
I have both variants in my garden and will quite willingly share some ‘babies’ with Knysna residents. Please contact me at 072 4661781.