February 27, 2011

Lachenalia: A New Classic and an Heirloom Classic Species

Lachenalia 'Romaud', one of the easiest new bulbs to 'force' into bloom on your windowsill. Still rather new to culture, these hybrids are fool-proof versions of a genus once only known to rare bulb collectors.

A close-up of a pot of the very easy-to-grow Lachenalia hybrid, which is rather new to culture. Look for Lachenalia 

Cape Hyacinth's, which are not Hyacinths, but are related, are actually a genus called Lachenalia.  Grown by bulb collectors and alpine plant enthusiast for years, a new hybrid series has become available which makes the genus more accessible for home gardeners. I buy them for fast and easy greenhouse color, and for novelty sake, since I grow many of the more rare species forms of Lachenalia. I happen to like them both, the easy-to-grow hybrids, and the fussier wild forms. As easy as Paperwhite Narcissus, the new Lachenalia varieties sold under the trade name of 'African Beauty' series, is worth searching out.
It's all about color, and the Hyacinth family really delivers a color boost in the greenhouse at this time of year. You can see how similar these hybrid selections of Lachenalia are to their relatives the Hyacinth we all know from our spring garden plantings. Velthiemia too, are relatives and perhaps you can spot the little pink Velthiemia bracteata in the photo above.

 African Beauty series Lachenalia can be ordered both in the spring and summer catalogs, ( when you would order Canna, and Calla's for use in the garden, or in the Fall Dutch bulb catalogs, when they can be potted up as windowsill bulb plants. Lachenalia hybrids require no chilling, or special care beyond water and bright light. Relatives of the Hyacinth, this yellow variety has a scent which is similar to nutmeg. I would plan on tossing them after the bloom, for these varieties are best grown for one-time displays. The species form of Lachenlia such as Lachenalia aloides, ( the red, yellow and green flower on the right), should be kept from year to year, but it requires a bone dry and hot summer bake in the greenhouse, and a cool, damp winter.
Lachenalia aloides ssp. quadricolor has four colors in it's flower. This is a species form of Lachenalia native to South Africa. A classic South African greenhouse bulbs, it is more precious, and must be grown from bulbs or seed and kept dormant for half of the year.

An engraving of Lachenalia aloides ssp. Nelsonii from a Nineteenth Century book. These classic winter bulbs for cold greenhouses had been grown in collector greenhouses in the UK throughout the Nineteenth century, but they fell out of favor in the Twentieth Century. Still hard to find, look for the species bulbs at the specialty bulb sites and order them in July and August for winter bloom.

A turn of the Century photo of Lachenalia aloides being grown in a hanging container. This image gives me some new ideas for how I can grow these easy bulbs. This would be easy enough with the new African Beauty series varieties. Just plant them and water. Maybe, in an orchid basket?

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