Brunsvigia bosmaniae


Family : Amaryllidaceae
Common names : candelabra lily (Eng.); Maartblom, kandelaar (Afr.)

Brunsvigia bosmaniae display at Hantam NBG

Brunsvigia bosmaniae produces a dazzling floral display during autumn when little else is flowering in the veld. More or less 21 days after a late summer rain, makes a spectacular appearance with its brilliant, rounded, candelabra-like, pink flower heads.

Brunsvigia bosmaniae is a geophyte, up to 400 mm high. It is a deciduous and temperate plant and has a globose bulb with an outer tunic that is characteristically brittle and coppery brown.

It has 5 to 6 leaves, with a dark green upper surface and red margins. The leaves are smooth, broad, tongue-shaped and lie flat on the ground when mature, but are leathery and dry when flowering. The foliage is produced after the flowering heads have broken away. This is in contrast to the summer rainfall region where the vegetative and flowering stages often overlap.

Brunsvigia bosmaniae flower head Brunsvigia bosmaniae leaves

The large heads of individual flowers vary in shades of pale to bright pink, with darker keels. Each flower head consists of 20-40 flowers. The outer three stamens are half as long as the inner three. The flowers are slightly tubular. When in flower, the plants are spectacular, and have a narcissus-like scent. Unfortunately, the flowering period is brief and restricted to summer and autumn. Floral markings are often inconsistant within species but dark veins on the tepals are characteristic for B. bosmaniae. Each flower head is held on a stalk which is quite longer than the length of the flower. The triangular-shaped capsules are 30-60 mm long.

Conservation status
Brunsvigia bosmaniae is not threatened.

Distribution and habitat
Brunsvigia bosmaniae grows in the winter rainfall region of southern Africa, and is found mostly on open flats, coastal sand, rocky outcrops, loam, granite and clay soils, from Namaqualand and Western Karoo, Tygerberg and the Bokkeveld Plateau to the Roggeveld.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Brunsvigia was named in honour of the House of Brunswick, Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Luneberg. The specific epithet bosmaniae, was named after a lady who has disappeared into obscurity unfortunately not much is known about her. The ending in the word iae denotes that the plant was named after a lady.

The beautiful flowering heads, which are strongly scented at night, are highly efficient in alluring pollinators. Studies of Brunsvigia bosmaniae have shown that the trumpet-shaped, pink flowers are pollinated at night by sphingid and noctuid moths.

The dry flower heads function well in dispersing the seeds. The light, spherical, fruiting heads break away from the bulb when dry. The kite-like shape of the capsule makes it easy for the heads to roll across the ground in the wind. As the dry flower heads tumble across the ground, the capsules break open and scatter the seeds.

Uses and cultural aspects
The bulbs of the Brunsvigia species in southern Africa have traditionally been used as decoctions to heighten the accuracy of the readings made by local diviners when throwing their dice.

It has also been recorded that infusions of the bulbs are used for medicinal purposes. It is important to note that brunsvigias, like all the other genera of Amaryllidaceae, have a very high alkaloid content, and therefore can be extremely toxic.

A rock painting of a Brunsvigia species in Lesotho depicts how highly the San people regarded the bulbs for their ability to affect the mind or behaviour of the user.

Brunsvigia bosmaniae flower head emerging

Growing Brunsvigia bosmaniae

Brunsvigia bosmaniae seeds germinate without difficulty. As soon as the seeds are ripe and fleshy they can be sown directly into a well drained sandy/loam soil. They can either be sown insitu or in a seed pan. Thereafter, all that is needed is to keep the area weed free and water once a week. Ensure they are in a sunny position. Seeds should be sown 5mm below the soil surface. Do not sow the seeds too deep. If it is the intention to plant these seedlings out into a bag or pot, they can be transplanted in their third year. Once planted in a permanent position do not move them around they will not flower if they are constantly dug-up and moved from one location to the next. A word of caution - do not plant the young bulbs too deep. Ensure the slender neck of the bulb is just protruding above the soil with the bulb part underground.

Brunsvigia bosmaniae, like all other brunsvigias and amayllids, require very well-drained soils. They prefer sandy soil, sandy loam soil, or even clay loam soils - provided the drainage is good.

Because bulbs are adapted to poor soil, feeding is not really necessary, but some ash will not do them any harm.

References and further reading

  • Du Plessis, N. & Duncan, G. 1989. Bulbous plants of southern Africa. Tafelberg, Cape Town.
  • Dyer, R.A. 1950. A review of the genus Brunsvigia. Plant Life 6: 6383.
  • Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa : families and genera.
  • Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Manning, J. & Goldblatt, P. 1997. Nieuwoudtville, Bokkeveld Plateau and Hantam. South African Wild Flower Guide 9. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
  • Manning, J., Goldblatt, P. & Snijman, D. 2002. The color encyclopedia of Cape bulbs Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
  • Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa, edn 2. Livingstone, Edinburgh.
  • website: brunsvigia.htm.
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Colleen Rust
Hantam National Botanical Garden
April 2009








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