This plant has by far the biggest bulb and inflorescence among
the geophytes in South Africa. Its large striking umbels are easily
visible in the veld when in bloom.
The plants are deciduous and grow in winter. The leaves only appear
in winter and rapidly die back in summer before the flowers are
borne in late summer to autumn. The plants including the inflorescence
grow to about 0.65 m in height. The bulbs are usually exposed, 200
mm in diameter and covered with dry, papery tunics. The 8-20 leaves
are blueish grey, strap-like, and about 600 x 200 mm.
The 30-40 flowers are carried on open, widely spreading umbels,
are dark red, and orange-yellow toward the base. The individual
flowers are tubular, measuring 15mm long and produce nectar, which
is enjoyed by sugarbirds. The fruiting body is a capsule 30-50 mm
long, more or less cylindrical. The seeds are ovoid, reddish green,
fleshy, 5-10 mm in diameter and are dispersed when the capsule ruptures
as it is blown by the wind. From seeds, plants may take up to 14
years to mature.
occur in the winter rainfall area from the western Karoo, Worcester,
Malgas to Willowmore. They are found usually on cooler and exposed
southern slopes in sandy to clay soils in broken renosterveld ,
mostly in Malmesbury shale, limestone and weathered sandstone. Being
deciduous geophytes, they are able to withstand seasonal droughts
and very low temperatures in the winter and are also resistant to
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 Brunsvigia was named
in honour of the house of Brunswick. The specific name josephinae
was named in honour of the Empress Josephine, Napoleon's first wife.
There are approximately 20 species of Brunsvigia found throughout
southern Africa. Brunsvigia orientalis
is another well-known species.
The tubular flowers are borne on a wide umbel seated on long stalks
up to about 650 mm long. The flowers are thus perfectly advertised
to nectar-eating sugarbirds who pollinate the flowers. Seeds are
dispersed by the tumbling of the inflorescence in the wind.
Uses and cultural aspects
Besides its value in ornamental horticulture, the dry bulb tunics
are used as a wound dressing. It is known that young Xhosa men use
the tunics as plasters after circumcision.
Growing Brunsvigia josephinae
Propagation is by seed or vegetatively. The plants can be grown
from seeds, which should be sown soon after ripening as the seed
starts germinating then. A coarse medium like river sand is ideal
and seedlings must be kept moist, but not overwatered. It will take
many years for these to reach flowering age.
It is also possible to separate bulbs from mature plants that
multiply under the ground.
Another vegetative method is to cut away a small section of the
bulb base where the roots emerge and plant it into a coarse medium.
Bulblets should appear at the base within a few months. This must
be done in the vegetative stage of the growth cycle i.e. just before
the leaves appear.
These plants can be grown in the garden in suitable climates, or
in pots. They are complemented with other geophytes from the amaryllid
family such as Boophane, Amaryllis
and Nerine which all put up a spectacular show in summer.
They all require good drainage and a dry, dormant period to thrive.
Not many pests are known to attack B. josephinae except
the amaryllis borer, a caterpillar with yellow and black markings
on its body. The caterpillar is most active at night where it can
be found boring into the leaves as well as fruits. It is advisable
to use biological control by introducing insect-eating birds to
the garden. The birds don't eat these worms! Alternatively a systemic
insecticide may be used.
- 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.
- Manning, J., Goldblatt, P. & Snijman, D. 2002, The colour
encyclopedia of Cape bulbs. Timber Press, Oregon, USA.
Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden