Brunsvigia radulosa is a very striking bulbous plant of the family Amaryllidaceae that grows and flowers spectacularly from December to February in the grasslands of the eastern parts of South Africa and Swaziland.
Brunsvigia radulosa is a bulbous herb with a large bulb, 60-100 mm in diameter, and with a short neck. The bulb is covered with hard brown tunics. There are 4-6 leaves, usually present at or after flowering, spreading flat on the ground, large, up to 500 x 200 mm, very thick and tough with rough surfaces and margin. The species name refers to this roughness. The inflorescence consists of up to 75 flowers, individually pedicelled (stalked), on a thick, flattened and solid peduncle (inflorescence stalk), forming a large umbel. Pedicels lengthen after fertilization until the seeds ripen. The perianth tube of the flower is short, up to 5 mm long; segments deep pink to pale purple,, 40-60 x ± 8 mm. The stamens curve upwards, and are about the same length as the perianth. The capsule is papery, about 15 mm long. At maturity the inflorescence detaches from the peduncle and becomes an excellent dispersal mechanism as it tumbles across the ground in the wind. The capsules split or break open and release the fleshy seeds over long distances.
The type specimen of Brunsvigia radulosa was collected by the British explorer William Burchell in about 1813 from 'near the Hondeblats River ', in Colesberg District in the Northern Cape. The species is now known to be widespread from Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern half of Northern Cape. It is also known from Swaziland and Lesotho and from a few records from southern Botswana.
There are about 20 species of Brunsvigia in South africa. This species is sometimes confused with B. natalensis (Dyer 1950, 1951). It appears that the two species may not be readily separable from each other. More data from the whole distribution range of the species is needed to critically re-assess its taxonomic status in relation to the other summer rainfall species.
Other summer rainfall species of Brunsvigia occurring in the eastern parts of South Africa are B. natalensis and B. grandiflora. B. natalensis is usually a smaller plant with a smaller bulb and with narrower leaves, flat on the ground or erect, often with bright red flowers, and occurs in the same vicinity as B. radulosa. In Gauteng and Limpopo, a small form occurs on dolomite substrates and this was at one time thought to be a possible new species by Dyer. We have seen this plant usually in relatively moist soils near marshes or watercourses.
B. grandiflora (giant candelabra flower) is a bigger plant, up to 800 mm high, 10-15 leaves, usually erect and undulating, with white to dark pink flowers. It is suspected that the similar B. undulata may prove to be a local form of B. grandiflora.
Growing Brunsvigia radulosa
All the species of Brunsvigia are rewarding container plants for the patient gardener and bulbous plant enthusiast. The best result for propagation is from fresh seeds. The fleshy seeds will germinate within weeks, often before sowing. The plants must be cared for in the first few years, not allowing them to dry out or over-watering them. It may take up to eight years or more for a seedling of B. radulosa to flower. But the show of flowers will be worth the wait! Other species from the winter rainfall regions that are sometimes cultivated are B. josphinae and B. orientalis.
References and further reading
- Dyer, R.A. 1950. A review of the genus Brunsvigia Heist. Plant Life, Herbertia, edn 6: 63-83.
- Dyer, R.A. 1951. A review of the genus Brunsvigia Heist. Plant Life, Herbertia, edn 7 : 45-64.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Pooley, E. 2003. Mountain flowers, a field guide to the flora of the Drakensberg and Lesotho. Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Snijman, D.A. 2002. Brunsvigia. In J. Manning, P. Goldblatt, & D.A. Snijman, The Color Encyclopedia of Cape bulbs : 96-100. Timber Press, Portland.
R.H. Archer & C. Archer
National Herbarium, Pretoria