February 18, 2011

Now Serving, Baboon Snacks

It is not uncommon for seed, which has been wild collected, to be miss-labeled, and alas, I am sure that this is exactly what happened with some of my South African native bulb seed that I have been growing for the past five years, such as this pot of Babiana species. It doesn't bother me, since much of this seed is collected on expeditions and harvested while bulb plants are in seed, and not in bloom. Plus, it's fun to research and try to identify, even key out, the species, as if, ( if I really push it!) I am on a safari or expedition within the safety of my own greenhouse. The only problem is when you can't find an exact match in one of the few books or journals that deal with the subject of South African bulbs.

This plant came from a packet of seed from South Africa which was labeled as Moraea pritzeliana, but a quick dive into any book on native flora of South Africa proves that firstly, this is not even a Moraea. Not an uncommon problem that many of us face who grow rarer species that come from wild collected seed, (and I share with you that I have a few of these unknown plants coming into bloom in the next few weeks as the South African bulbs in my collections begin to come into bloom).  If you know what this is, please let me know. My best guess at this point is that it is Babiana odorata, but the petals seem to be smaller on mine when compared to species I see on-line. Still, it has the blue anthers, but no fragrance. I started it from seed purchased from Silverhill seeds in South Africa.

Come on Baboons.....I dare you to eat my Babiana corms!

Babiana are members of the Iris Family ( Iridaceae) and they get their name from the Baboons which love to dig and eat their corms. Most Babiana's are restricted to growing in the winter-rainfall region of South Africa, where many, many flowering bulbs also grow. In the wild, most species are now endangered in their wild habitat ( which is why any wild collected seed, and never bulbs, must be obtained from responsible sources such as a botanic garden like Kirstenbosch, or Silverhill seeds which ensures that native populations are maintained and not exploited).

One interesting aspect within Babiana are that species are either pollinated by bees, or beetles ( Monkey Beetles), and the difference is clear to even our human eyes, since the bee pollinated forms have less contrast in the flower ( to our human eyes), and often have long tubes  which indicate that flies with long probiscus or pollen collecting bees visit them. The species that attract beetles of various species, have high contrasting floral colors such as violet and white.

Many species of Babiana are ornamental, with numerous hybrids and crosses being grown in California and other warmer places where identification becomes muddled. With 75 species known ( Goldbatt & Manning, 2002), surely my mystery species might be identified by someone more experienced.


  1. wow those are gorgeous blooms!

  2. It is frustrating not to be able to correctly identify seedlings but that yellow with the blue anthers sure are beautiful no matter what it is!


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