When we first arrived in Knysna 20 years ago, I was mesmerised by the beauty of these spectacular bulbous plants which grew in abundance on Leisure Isle, along the road verges of Links Drive, in the open spaces and also in the park. Over the years the Brunsvigia populations (amaryllis family) have declined for reasons unknown. At one stage it was infested with the amaryllis caterpillar which was left untreated, and rightly so as nature has to take its course. Another reason was mooted – the regular mowing of the grassy areas.
Brunsvigia is the ideal water-wise plant, it is also relatively pest free. It has a toxic principle that prevents it from being eaten by moles and mole rats, which tend to be the scourge of many other bulbous plants. It suffers very few other problems.
Help preserve wild populations
Please do not collect seeds in the wild as future populations depend on new generations. If by any chance “domesticated” plants bear some seed heads, you can harvest the seeds and sow it in deep seed trays as soon as possible after harvesting in a very well-drained, sandy medium to which some fine compost is added. Press lightly into the soil, so that the top of the seed remains visible. Water well once and then again only after the first leaves appear. After that, water well once every two to three weeks. When the leaves begin to yellow, withhold watering altogether. Judicious watering starts again when the leaves reappear after the dormant period. Leave young plants in seed trays for at least two years before potting up individually into large deep pots about 30cm in diameter. Select pots which will hold the mature plants as they don’t enjoy being disturbed again.
Well-drained soil important
If planting into open ground, select a really well-drained position which only receives natural rains and is not influenced by artificial watering systems. Also, select a spot where the flower heads can develop to their full size and be appreciated without being smothered or hidden by other plants.
Away from the winter rainfall region it would be best to treat this plant as a pot subject, so that watering can be carefully controlled.
Amaryllids can also be grown from offsets or from scales. Two publications in the Kirstenbosch Gardening series, Grow Bulbs and Grow Nerines, both by Graham Duncan of the National Botanical Institute, have further valuable propagation information.
A full description of this lovely plant can be found on the Steenbok Nature Reserve website www.steenboknaturereserve.org.za/plants/flora/plants/brunsvigia-orientalis.