November 24, 2012

Rare Bulbs, Common Bulbs

Massonia jasminiflora

Bulbs, whether they live indoors or out, are often like distant loved relatives, they visit, only staying for a while and then disappear from our lives for a year or so, only returning, sometimes more healthy and vibrant, even taller and more mature, or sometimes not. The best ones get better each year, as they mature. Some have children, some mature into impressive specimens, and others, are just nostalgic reminders each year, when their returning presence seems to make the season complete.

And so it is with these bulbs which I share with you today. Some rare, some ridiculously common, so just difficult to find. The first one I share comes from South Africa - Massonia jasminiflora. One of the twin-leaved adpressed Massonia's. this one is only recently described, being classified only late in the 20th Century. Known only to serious collectors who can grow it under cool glass, this gem spends most of its life underground, but extends it's two beautiful spotted leaves during the summer in the southern hemisphere( winter, here in the north), where in the wilds of the veldt it is pollinated by gerbils who can nestle their whiskers around in the floral parts which smell nothing near jasmine, but more like Clorox to me. But then again, I am no gerbil.


The second bulb I share also comes from South Africa, but it is not exactly rare, just hard to find today. It's shaving brush blossoms are common enough in most cool-growing greenhouse collections, and this is one of those bulb plants which never goes dormant, with odd specimens often filling large tubs in old conservatory collections. Haemanthus albiflos is worth seeking out if you are looking for a sturdy window sill house plant, for this is one South African oddity which will thrive on neglect. I divided my mother plant this year, and now have dozens, which once I get a retail aspect of my site up in the spring, I will offer for sale if people are interested.

My Haemanthus albiflos blooms every December like clockwork, extending dozens of bottlebrush blossoms anytime between Thanksgiving and the third week of December. There are nicer and rarer Haemanthus species, but this by far is the easiest to grow.


The third bulb I am sharing is indeed rare - Strumaria unguiculata, which is one of those plants which I can only assume is rare as when I Google it, my bulb photo's keep coming up each year. For three years I have only had one, simple leaf emerge each fall, but this year, I have two. I know, not very exciting, but one of these years, this little known species in a genus which is even more uncommon may bloom for me. Until then, I grow my bulb in sand, in a tiny pot with a tiny leaf or two, and wait.

The fourth bulb of this Christmas season is once again, my trust Cyrtanthus cross which is still a mystery to all of us. Purchased ten years ago at a rare bulb auction at the annual meeting of the International Bulb Society at the Huntington Garden, this seedling from an Amaryllis breeder has bloomed for me ever year since. I do know that it is one half Cyrtanthus elatus, but the other half may always be a mystery. I could muster a guess and say that it was crossed with another Cyrtanthus perhaps one with a dangling blossom, but regardless, I adore this cross, and I have finally divided my plants into a few dozen which I hope to start sharing next year. It always blooms for the Holidays for me, which is a nice time for a red, large blossom. This division has three flower stalks on it, and each flower is nearly 4 inches long.

WIth Thanksgiving over, it's time for Paperwhites. Traditionally, I always remembered planting paperwhite narcissus with my mom on the weekend following Thanksgiving. I never tire of the scent and the sound of the gravel being poured into ceramic bowls, pans  and pots when the weather is cold outside. Like many plants, especially at the Holidays, nostalgia factors into the enjoyment no matter how simple the plant may be.

Lastly, Amaryllis. If one wants flowers for Christmas or the New Year, bulbs of the earliest flowering varieties must be potted now. I try to start a few early, and then stagger bulbs throughout the winter. The finest varieties I feel are those which bloom in mid winter or in late winter - the spider flowered cybister forms, and the newer hybrids. Still, a simple red and white Amaryllis is magical, with large fat buds emerging each winter, who could spend a year without these annual treats?

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