The name Malgas lily is taken from the abundance of this bulb in
the Malgas area near the Breede River in the Cape. It is one of
South Africa's showiest bulb species especially when seen flowering
The plants are deciduous and grow in winter. The leaves appear from
May and die back from October when the plants normally come into
flower. They have a cut off appearance at the tips. The bulbs are
large at maturity, 100-150 mm in diameter, with a neck of about
60 mm long. The 9 to 14 leaves are green or dry when the plant flowers.
The leaves curve sideways, vary in length, and are 13-55 mm wide.
The flowers are tubular, funnel-shaped, ivory to deep pink, 8-15
mm long, with stamens exserted from the tubes. Flowers are normally
born from December to April and produce a strong and pleasant frangipani-like
scent. The fruits are more or less spindle-shaped with papery walls
that disintegrate upon ripening. Seeds are greenish, fleshy and
subglobose, 5-30 mm in diameter. The pedicels in the fruiting head
elongate and spread outwards, making a ball which tumbles in the
wind, distributing the seeds. From seed, plants grow relatively
slowly and take about seven years before flowering.
are restricted to the winter rainfall regions from southern Namibia
to Namaqualand and the Western Cape. In the Western Cape it is found
growing in abundance in from the Breede River Valley in Worcester
to Still Bay in the southwestern Cape. Plants grow on sandy to gravelly
flats, often close to permanent or seasonal streams and rivers.
Being deciduous geophytes, they are able to withstand seasonal droughts
and very low temperatures in the winter.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The family name Amaryllidaceae is from the name Amaryllus who was
a pretty shepherdess mentioned by Theocritus, Virgil and Ovid. Edmund
Spenser used the name in 1595 for Alice, daughter of Sir John Spenser,
later Countess of Derby and ancestress of the Princess of Wales.
The genus name Ammocharis is from the Greek ammos,
meaning sand and charis, meaning delight. This refers to
the plant's preference to sandy soil. The specific name longifolia
simply means long or elongated leaves. There are five species of
Ammocharis found in southern Africa. Until recently this
plant was named Cybistetes longifolia.
The fragrant, lily-like flowers are borne on short stalks close
to the ground and almost certainly pollinated by moths at night
when the scent is released. The protruding stamens facilitate pollination
when the insects enter and exit flowers. After pollination, the
flowers wither quickly. The fruit has a papery covering that ruptures
as the dry inflorescence is blown by the wind in a tumbling fashion
to aid seed dispersal. Ammocharis is not known to be palatable
as the plants possess toxic compounds.
Uses and cultural aspects
Besides its value in ornamental horticulture, there are no other
cultural or medicinal uses associated with Ammocharis longifolia.
Growing Ammocharis longifolia
The plants can be grown from seeds, which are sown as soon as possible
once ripe. The seeds of Ammocharis species sometimes start
to germinate even before they fall. A coarse medium, like river
sand is ideal and seedlings must be kept moist. It is also possible
to separate bulbs from mature plants that multiply under the ground.
Another method of propagation is to cut away a small section of
the bulb base where the roots form and plant this in a coarse medium.
Bulblets should appear at the base within a few months. This must
be done in the vegetative stage of the plant i.e. just before the
leaves appear in winter.
These plants can be grown in pots or in the garden in suitable
References and further reading
- Dyer, R.A. 1975. The genera of southern African plants, vol.
1. Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria.
- Jackson, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meanings of South African
plant genera. University of Cape Town Printing Department.
- Manning, J.C., Goldblatt, P. & Snijman, D. 2002. The
colour encyclopedia of Cape bulbs. Timber Press, Oregon, USA.
Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden