Albuca nelsonii

N.E. Br.

= Ornithogalum nelsonii (N.E.Br.) J.C.Manning & Goldblatt
Family : Hyacinthaceae, Hyacinth family
Common names : Nelson's slime lily (Eng.), umaphipha (Zulu), intelezi (Xhosa).

Flowers of A.nelsonii: Geoff Nichol copyright
© Geoff Nichols

Albuca nelsonii may be found in specialist collections but it is not often seen in gardens. Yet, as this illustration shows, it has attractive flowers, and it is considered a good garden plant.

This robust, evergreen, bulbous perennial grows in clumps and is 60-120 cm high when in flower. The large, fleshy bulb is partially exposed above the ground. The leaves are strap-shaped and rather sappy. Its flowers are white with green stripes, 25-35 mm long, and borne on a long, more or less erect pedicel. Several to many flowers are arranged in a raceme with a stout, erect, naked peduncle. The flowers are produced from September-November.

A. nelsonii plant: Geoff Nichols copyright

Conservation status
Albuca nelsonii is not protected by any legislation in South Africa. It is listed as "Least Concern".

Distribution and habitat
It is a summer rainfall species found in partially shaded areas in grassland and on coastal cliffs in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. It occurs at an altitude of 30-170 m.

Growing at Ngoye: Copyright G.Nichols

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Albuca is derived from albus, the Latin for white, or albicans, becoming white, which refers to the flower. The specific epithet nelsonii was given for a British nurseryman, William Nelson, who first collected the species. Albuca is a genus of some 80 species of which about 60 occur in southern Africa. Recent molecular studies suggest that the genus Albuca should be combined with Ornithogalum (Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004).

Little is known about the pollination biology of Albuca.

Uses and cultural aspects
An infusion made from Albuca nelsonii bulbs and tubers of Kniphofia species, known as icacane, is taken as an emetic as protection against sorcery. Albuca nelsonii is well suited to mass plantings in flower borders or on rockeries, especially in informal gardens.

Flowers> Copyright G Nicols

Growing Albuca nelsonii

Albuca nelsonii is grown from offsets from the mother plant or from seed. A rich, well drained soil with high organic content made up of one part industrial sand to one part loam and one part compost is a good culture medium. Organic fertilizer may be added when necessary. With its strong root system and partially exposed bulbs the species grows well on rockeries and in pots or other containers.

Caterpillar on leafCaterpillars may attack the leaves. In the garden it is preferable not to spray with poisons as the birds will see to the biological control. In an enclosed system it may be necessary to spray as the caterpillars may destroy your plants totally.

A batteniana is another species with garden potential.



  • Bryan, J.E. 1989. Bulbs, vol.1. Timber Press, Oregon.
  • Manning, J.C., Goldblatt, P. & Snijman, D.A. 2002. The color ncyclopedia of Cape bulbs. Timber Press, Portland. Cambridge. Du Plessis, N., Duncan, G.D. 1989. Bulbous plants of South Africa. A guide to their cultivation and propagation ; with watercolours by Elise Bodley.Tafelberg Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape Region. Natal Flora Publication Trust, Durban.
  • Manning, J.C., Goldblatt, P. & Fay, M.F. 2004. A revised generic synopsis of Hyacinthaceae in sub-Saharan Africa, based on molecular evidence, including new combinations and the new tribe Pseudoprospereae. Edinburgh Journal of Botany 60,3:533-568.


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