Contents of the Spring 2014 Northants News

Haemanthus coccineus                             Roland Tebbenham

The bulb and peduncle of Haemanthus

South African bulbs have shared my greenhouse with cacti, succulents and cycads for many years, but I had failed to flower a red Haemanthus until 2013.  Finally after a sunny spell in August my patience was rewarded.  The species was Haemanthus coccineus, which was named by Linnaeus in his book ‘Species Plantarum’ in 1753; though it was first illustrated in 1605 and the lectotype was defined as an image in Commelin’s book ‘Horti Medici Amstelodamensis Rariorum’ of 1701.  It is called Blood Flower’ andPaintbrush Lily’, which suggest its flower colour and shape.


Left: The bulb and emerging peduncle (stalk to most of us) of Haemanthus coccineus gives few clues to the extravagance of the flower that follows.


Haemanthus coccineus is widespread throughout the Southern Africa winter rainfall region, from southern Namibia, to the Cape Peninsula and the Eastern Cape of South Africa.  It is adaptable, growing in a wide range of soils and from coastal dunes to mountains at 1200m (3950ft); the most favoured sites being sheltered kloofs and rock crevices.  I wondered why I have taken a decade to flower it, given its adaptability!  It is a member of the family Amaryllidaceae, which tend to have thickened roots that resent disturbance and damage, they prefer to be ‘slightly potbound’ to flower well.  I grow mine in cactus mix, well-drained and fed with slow-release fertilizer.

The flower bud appeared before the pair of leaves, which is normal.  The spotty peduncle elongated and the brightly-coloured spathe valves opened to reveal the full glory of the species.  This is an umbel – a compound inflorescence – comprising 25-100 individual flowers coloured coral-red and white with exserted anthers carrying the yellow pollen.


Right: The flower of Haemanthus coccineus.

Flower of Haemanthus coccineus

Flower of Haemanthus coccineus

The flowers lasted almost ten days; they were well worth the wait.  I have enjoyed the white flowers on other Haemanthus plants for many years, many of which are evergreen.  However this event was very pleasing owing to the striking colour flowers appearing before the leaves.  If you fancy a challenge, try it; or if you have flowered a red one let me know.


Reference: ‘The Genus Haemanthus – A Revision’ by Diedre Snijman, J of South African Botany sup vol-[1984] ISBN062007339X, see pp96-105 & plates-18/19

Flower of Massonia depressa

Ed: Funnily enough ‘Amstelodamensis’ is not in Mrs. Dell’s spellchecker, though ‘Amaryllidaceae’ is, (though in a misspelt form that I have now corrected; thanks Roland). This article reminded me that many succulent lovers grow bulbs, especially from South Africa, in their greenhouses. I also grow the common Haemanthus albiflos as well as several species of the bulb Nerine.

My picture (left) shows Massonia depressa growing in the Alpine House at Wisley. Surely this must qualify as a honorary succulent. I often see them in succulent habitats in South Africa but never yet in flower. Maybe...

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