Lady in Red

Although the current trend seems to be to employ a landscape gardener to create an instant garden for you in whatever style you or he/she deems fit, be it  fynbos or rocky succulent and of course a water-wise garden – it is somehow much more satisfying and interesting (although slower) to create one’s own garden from favourite cuttings, seeds and bulbs supplied by friends and relations, and plants from a range of nurseries – which together result in gardens that are constantly changing and producing unexpected and sometimes exotic blooms.

Sprekelia formosissima
Sprekelia formosissima

One such recently acquired exotic example in our predominantly indigenous garden, is the bulb Sprekelia formosissima, otherwise known by various names such as the St James lily, Maltese Cross lily or Aztec lily. A cousin in Johannesburg, who in turn was given a bulb by a friend in Zimbabwe, gave us a couple of bulbs earlier this year. Low and behold in August they produced amazing deep scarlet flowers whose petals form a shape similar to the insignia of the Spanish Knights of St James – hence its name. The bulb originates from Mexico and Guatemala and is believed to have been taken to Europe from South America by the Spanish in the 16th century.

It was originally known as the Amaryllis formosissima but in 1758 the noted Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus received a specimen from a German lawyer and botanist, JH von Sprekelsen, and renamed the bulb in his honour. Formosissima means ‘the most beautiful’ in Latin – not surprising when one sees the flowers. Plant naming is another topic I find endlessly fascinating and rather touching that 250 years later Herr von Sprekelsen is remembered by this beautiful flower – which Hadeco aptly calls ‘Lady in Red’.

When the bulbs flowered at the end of August, I thought that was that for this season, but to my delight both plants are, at the beginning of October, producing another flower each – who knows how many more they have in store? The bulbs grow best in semi-shade and are also good container plants.

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones

Photos: Margaret Richards