Indigenous bulbs- flowering in late winter & early spring

Chasmanthe floribunda Photo: Penny East
Chasmanthe floribunda
Photo: Penny East

The appearance of spikey, orangey-red flowers on our Chasmanthe floribunda or Greater Cobra lily is another indication that this cold winter is gradually creeping to an end. Like the Forest lily (Veltheimia bracteata) they flower in late winter and early spring. The bright flowers provide much needed colour to winter gardens as well as food for the sunbirds and warmth to our souls.

These bulbs are easy to grow as they are happy in full sun or semi-shade and are not known to be subject to any serious pests or diseases. They prefer well-drained and well-composted soil and flower well when they are left undisturbed.  They are dormant in summer and as long as they soil is well drained they can survive in an irrigated area. The fresh green sword-shaped leaves start to appear in autumn, and are gleefully shredded by our Cape weavers for nesting material.

Since last year our little colony of Chasmanthes has multiplied, so hopefully there will be enough for us and the weavers when the spring nest-building frenzy gets under way. The plants increase by producing small or ‘daughter’ corms round the base of the parent corm which can be removed during the dormant period and replanted in early autumn. Another means by which they proliferate is when the corm of a single plant that has flowered the previous season, splits to form two plants the following season. Remember that corms that have been lifted and replanted will take at least a season to re-establish themselves and often do not flower the season after replanting.

The name Chasmanthe refers to the shape of the flower and is from the Greek chasme meaning gaping; and anthos meaning flower; while floribunda is the Latin for abundant flowers.

Cyrtanthus mackenii var. cooperi Photo: Margaret Richards
Cyrtanthus mackenii var. cooperi
Photo: Margaret Richards

Another late winter flowering bulb is the Ifafa lily (Cyrtanthus mackenii var. cooperi) with its sweetly scented narrow yellow tubular flowers. This is one of the few Cyrtanthus species that does well in gardens with a temperate climate – the others really only do well in containers. Look out for the dreaded lily borer or Amaryllis worm which can be a problem. The bulbs need to be planted in well-rotted organic material and prefer to grow in light shade. They should be allowed to form large clumps and like to be left undisturbed for at least five years until the clumps get too thick and fewer flowers are produced. When this happens, separate ‘daughter’ bulbs from the mother bulb in early spring, replant immediately and water well. The plants need good watering throughout the year once every ten days.

Cyrtanthus is another botanical name with a Greek derivation relating to the shape of the flower i.e. kyrtos meaning curved and anthos meaning flower.  Mackenii  honours Mark J McKen, a pioneer collector in KwaZulu Natal and first curator of the Durban Botanic Gardens.

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones