March 13, 2006



Lovin' the Lachenalia

These easy of easiest bulbs still impress me, not only because of their ease, but because they perform so nicely in the cold greenhouse year after year. Natives of South Africa, there are just dozens of species that do well in a cool conservatory or greenhouse, and many more species that can be obtained from seed (More about that in another entry). Long known to bulb collectors and plant enthusiasts for three centuries, Lachenalia are virtually unknown to most people in the united States. But expect to see more of these precious bulb flowers appearing here since recently, both the Dutch and the South Africans are investing in the Lachenalia's future as a commercial pot plant. Already available in European bulb markets as an ornamental potted plant, a hybrid series known as the African Beauty® series bred for it's slightly more robust characteristics, is starting to become available to North American growers.

This relative of the Hyacinth family (Hyacinthaceae) doesn't carry the intense fragrance of it's cousin (although some yellow hybrids have a mild nutmeg-like scent), but it is just as easy to grow as long as you remember where they come from. Order bulbs in the late summer, for winter bloom (remember, as withmostt winter blooming South African Bulbs, our winter is summer in the Southern Hemisphere).

Order Lachenalia in late July and early August, I pot all of my Lachenalia, in August so that they can be plunged into a dry sand bed in the greenhouse to await their first watering around the first week in September when the temperature breaks and starts to get cool here in New England. Most of the winter blooming South African bulbs like Velthiemia, Watsonia, Nerine sarniensis and Romulea all stay dry in the summer under glass. Only the Nerine get a spritz of water now and then to keeptheirr bulbs firm.

The best Lachenalia to abeginnerr to try is Lachenaliaaloidess ssp. quadracolor, or one of the many other L.aloidess forms available from the few sources that carry them. L.aloidess quadracolor (pictured above) offers foliage that is sometimes handsomely marked with reticulation as well as striking flowers that blend from lime green to magenta which creates four colors, hence, quad-ra-color. If you can find the African Beauty series, they perform nicely too.

Recently, the African Beauty Series has become available for planting in the spring, terrific for containers and window boxes for a early summer blast of color for a few weeks. Last year, I potted a few pots up in March, and had blooms in the Alpine House until late June. Unfortunately they didn't seem to last as long in the summer heat as they do in the winter, but I am growing more again, having just placed a order for more from BRENT and BECKY'S BULBS.

Hybrids aside for a moment, with over 110 species in the genus, most all are viable for pot culture. Only a handful of species are available from a few growers, but starting a collection from seed is easier than one would think. The larger South African Seed catalogs such as Silverhill Seeds, offers many species. Potted in a loose gravelly fast draining soil, again, in September, kept well watered, you could expect flowers in three to four years. Since some species may cost $12.00 a bulb, and a full pot of a dozen or two bulbs are needed for a decent display, a packet of a hundred seeds for $3.00 is quite reasonable.

If you grow from either seeds or bulbs, all of my Lachenalia get their first water in early September, and once growth is visible by October, are kept in a plunge bed of damp yet fas tdraining sand all winter long, in full sun in a cold greenhouse (kept at 45 deg F at night, and perhaps 65 in the day (and I will only speak from my own experience here). I fertilize with a tomato fertilizer once a week, and never let the plant sit in water, although they do sit in a muddy sludge for a few hours after watering, in South Africa many grow in Fields that are sopping wet with run-off after heavy rains. Mine are actually kept quite wet but the soil is pure gravel and pumice, with large air spaces.

Species bloom at different times throughout the year, starting with the incredible teal-blue L. viridiflora around Christmas, and by spring, the last to bloom are the Hybrid African Beauty series as well as L. framesii and a rare green flowered form of L.aloidess 'vanzyliae'. Some species are more showy than others, but all offer something of interest to bulb collectors, since an interesting collection can be made, not only for flowers, but based on foliage as well since many species have curious features to their two leaves like spots, hairs or pustules that look like blisters.

sincee the last of myLachenaliaa are starting to bloom, I thought that I might share some photos of these rare plants, and to keep in yourmindd that now is a good time to start placing your orders for seed as well as some hybrids for spring delivery to color your deck or plant some pots to impress your neighbors. Just remember to buy as many as you can afford, and pot as many as you can in a pot for the best show.

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