February 24, 2013

My Lachenalia Bacchanalia

Lachenalia, or Cape Hyacinths are like visual candy.  These I  photographed these today a faceplate of a book from the late 1800's  that I found while cleaning in the attic.  Seems like a perfect match with these
 treasures -  South African bulb flowers which once were standard fare in winter bulb displays in
conservatory collections  in the 18th and 19th century, and now rarely found.

As many of you know already, I am gaga about Lachenalia - the rarely grown South African bulb genus that make me love winter even more ( yeah, remember - I am a winter lover!). They are quite growable, and I feel that they are as easy as paperwhite narcissus, as long as you keep them cool, which for many of use with old houses, is not that difficult in the winter. An icy, drafty windowsill that is sunny in the winter can be their perfect location.

On this snowy day (snowy weekend, actually) there are currently eight pots in bloom in the cold greenhouse, so I thought I might pick a few to share with you. It's easy to see that they are cousins of our common spring bulb, the hyacinth, but sadly, aside from a few, these have no scent.

Lachenalia aloides var. aloides, a few bulbs that I started from seed five years ago, and a pot which I thoroughly neglect. Still, each year, it decides to produce these amazing flowers. Who could ever hate these?

By far the most commonly found Lachenalia for home growers are those classified under the species aloides. Lachenalia alpides have the showiest blossoms, some with three or four colors each, and others with only a single color ( like yellow in L. aloides 'nelsonii'). There is even a greenish teal colored species with striking dark, speckled foliage, ( my specimen pot will bloom in a few more weeks). The term 'aloides' comes from Aloe, for the blossoms appear very aloe-like, not that they could ever be confused with the many aloe species which are also South African, these bulbs are low growing, with spotted foliage and brilliant when in bloom.

The plant window(the one above my kitchen sink), currently has a display with three types of Lachenalia, and a fragrant Daphne odora brought indoors for the weekend so that we can enjoy the scent.

Lachenalia are by no means new, and many of these same species were grown under glass in the 18th century after being introduced by ships returning from the Cape of Africa with one account listed as 1652 ( the Dutch East Indian Company) but the earliest account of plants being grown in England in 1752.( Lachenalia orchioides). In the United States, I have a book from 1805 which lists nearly a dozen species available for cold glass houses. For whatever reason, the genus remains rare in the trade, but one can easily find bulbs ( and seed) every autumn, with a simple Google search.

These are easy bulbs to grow, the greatest challenge may just be finding some.  I seem to post a Lachenalia post a few times of year - seach this site for more articles, and look for bulbs of any type in bulb catalogs. Just remember - they are not hardy, meaning that they cannot freeze, so they are best as house plant bulbs where winters are fierce. Grow them in pots in fast-draining soil, and plan on potting bulbs in the late summerif you live in the north.  Water them in before weather becomes cold, and bring them indoors before frost. Plants will start growth shortly after, and can be grown quite well on cold windowsills, unheated porches that remain unfrozen, in cold, sunny greenhouses, or in the winter garden if you live in California.

Bulbs can be lifted once they go dormant in the spring to avoid summer wetness ( which they cannot handle) or, if you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, allow the pots to go bone dry during their dormant period, which lasts from June until early September. I urge anyone reading to go and try a pot of lachenalia next autumn, they are delightful, and they make winter oh so bearable.


  1. Love the title! The variation between the different species and cultivars is really awesome - somehow to me that makes them much more appealing than the few times I have come across a single species flowering all by itself in a conservatory.

  2. gorgeous pics! so inspiring and such a nice contrast against the snowy windows. hope you don't mind! i've done a post about you and borrowed some pics, crediting you and linking back here. discovering your blog might have changed my life. much aloha!

  3. Anonymous3:27 AM

    I would love it if each one had the name by it. I love these and live in a climate where they even grow in the garden. Most I keep in pots though.

  4. We are so lucky living in South Africa. They are rate but they grow naturally on the West coast. I have a few bulbs in a pot outside that comes up every year


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