September 27, 2010

My Brunsvigia bosmaniae Blooms. A 'documentary experience', right in my own back yard.

BRUNSVIGIA BOSMANIAE Blooming in a large container

"Is it? Is iT? Oh my gosh! Oh my Gosh, Oh my gosh!!! It's a freaking bud" Was all Joe could here a couple of weeks ago, when I spotted what looked like a tiny bud emerging from one of the Brunsvigia bulbs that I had repotted carefully into a much larger pot. 

Brunsvigias are the queens of all of the South African bulbs. Large, showy, fussy, rare, they have everything that makes us collectors desire them even more. In a recent BBC nature documentary series in the UK, Sir David Attenborough describes how the inflorescence of the Brunsvigia bosmaniae, breaks off if its peduncle when dry, and then rolls along the veld dispersing seed as it goes. 

"Tonight, somewhere under the bright moonlight, perhaps in a broad,  sandy veld in the Natal area, a massive display of natures finest special event is happening. For every 7 years of so, a bloom flush with the genus Brunsvigia is transforming a valley which is normally just sand, into a sand bed with beach ball sized heads of pink lilies which will have the traffic stopping for days, and plat enthustasts with their cameras and new hiking boots snapping their digital pictures until the sun goes down each day. But here in our New England garden, something even more magical is happening. Four weeks before Halloween, just as the Macintosh Applies are being picked , a large English clay pot full of stone and sand presents us with a surprise and a very special gift. A massive head of pink lilies from a B. bosmaniae bulbs purchased then years ago for overseas, which has decided to reward us with it’s umbel of punk Lily-like flowers. Saying that we are delighted, would be an understatement. Apparently all of that coddling and special fertilizer really paid off.
The blooming of any bulb called Brunsvigia is big news, for these large, papery bulbs from South Africa are the queens of all bulbs, they reach enormous sizes, they are rare enough that when on blooms, it sometimes makes the papers and they require just the perfect amount of light, rain and rest, which can only be provided in the north with a glass house. 

Iconic to certain river valleys and dry lake beds in Natal South African, where local people wait decades to see one of the most magnificent sites in nature, the mass blooming of a large population of these plants, generally in a sand basin which is transformed into a sea of pink lilies. My one single bulb in a pot is hardly a veld, but I don’t care, I am so excited that I feel like  a new dad. Look, this is pretty big news around here I mean, there are probably only 5 or ten bulbs in private collections in our entire state, and few if any ever bloom.
The BBC Nature documentary 'LIFE'  featured a story about the Brunsvigia bosmaniae bloom in South Africa.

A wild population in Nieuwoudtville, South Africa blooming after a autumn rainfall, a phenomenon rarely seen.

In its native habitat, species of Brunsvigia, grow in a widespread area but mostly in the winter-rainfall areas of the Cape. When plants bloom ( usually in large populations), it occurs as a mass-bloom. The event is rare enough since there are a number of factors must occur ( sudden downpours after a long perious of drought, hot, searing summers, cooler evenings, perhaps even a full moon). Most botanists agree that the main trigger is a brief, heavy autumn downpour ( which in this area is not a guaranteed event), but if a rainstorm does pass over this dry area of Nieuwoudtville, botanists and plant enthusiasts know that the veld with be transformed precisely three weeks after the storm. 
We are more than thrilled about our Brunsvigia bosmaniae  blooming, since any guide to the cultivation of this genus will state that all Brunsvigia’s are notoriously erratic when removed from their native habitats. We can only hope that the other species in the collection bloom but it doesn't look like it yet. Best of all, it seems to be forming seed capsules. In it’s wild habitat, it is pollinated by nocturnal moths, but we’ve seen the honey bees on the blossoms all week so we are encourages that we may get seeds. Still, once sown, we will need to wait 12 years to see flowers from our seedlings, but hey, I might be retired by then!


  1. Amazing! It may have been a plant similar to this that was featured on a recent documentary like "Life". Apparently the round shape of the flower head allows the inflorescence to snap off once it has formed seed pods and roll with the wind, thereby dispersing seed. Cool!

  2. Great post today...

    and Congratulations! This is quite an accomplishment!

  3. Anonymous3:58 AM

    Sending you my most sincere congratulations! I can appreciate what this occasion means for you and I hope you feel fantastic :)

    Jacob Knecht

  4. Acres of brunsvigias!! OMG what a thrill. I'm re-energized to succeed with one. I had a small starter-size B. radulosa from (sigh) Seneca, but didn't pay enough attention and so it (sigh) died. I'll try again (but from another source): To have even one Brunsvigia in bloom, in a pot, would be, indeed, a sensation. Congratulations!

  5. Matt, you should be so proud-it's FANTASTIC-bravo!

  6. My wife and I are delighted that one set of our bulbs [planted in the shade under a large magnolia soulangeana] has sent up a flower spike this year; the first in four years!

  7. Max Johnston9:33 PM

    Hi Max here from Tasmania Australia
    I have a Brunsvigia for eight years now and it flowers every year this year I planted the seeds now I have 36 seedlings I am excited as you are,awaiting the next step

  8. John D7:52 PM

    hi Max, you have any seedlings for sale? I'm Sydney, tks


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