Brunsvigia orientalis is one of the exciting surprises experienced
in the late summer, when little else is flowering. The emergence
of large pinkish 'eggs' suddenly pushing their way above ground,
and then very quickly elongating and becoming topped with spectacular
red spherical flowerheads is a sight to behold! What makes them
even more surprising is that they pop up out of the bare ground,
normally without a leaf in sight!
A large bulbous perennial from which flowers emerge between February
and March. The flowerhead forms a huge sphere, up to 600 mm in diameter,
with between 20 to 80 flowers. These are large, 6-tepalled, pink
to red and are soon followed by the 3-sided seed capsules.
The leaves appear from about May, after the flowerhead has dried
and broken off. There are generally 6 large tongue-shaped leaves
spread flat on the ground. The margins are often fringed. Leaves
start to die down from about October and the bulb lies dormant during
These plants occur on sandy lowland coastal areas from southern
Namaqualand to the Cape Peninsula and Plettenberg Bay.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Brunsvigia honours the House of Brunswick.
The common name kandelaarblom was first noted in about 1750.
Many of the common names refer to the candelabra-like inflorescence
and have been extended to several other species in the family with
a similar appearance.
Some of the names refer to flowering time, while others such as
rolbossie and perdespookbossie refer to the inflorescence
which tumbles (rol) along and which may spook horses (perde) in
Apparently if you stared long enough at the flower you got sore
eyes, hence the name sore-eye flower! A more likely explanation
is that pollen in the eyes would account for the irritation. Hesse
reported that the very first kandelaarsbloem to flower in
Europe was in the Academy Garden of Helmstad, but no date is given.
The candelabra flower, like many other amaryllids, has adapted to
the dry period of the year by resting underground in the form of
a large bulb. In the Western Cape the dry season is summer. All
above-ground parts dry out during this time to help prevent moisture
loss through transpiration. Just before the rainy season is due
to start the huge flowerhead appears.
Birds, including sunbirds, are the chief pollinators. They perch
on the sturdy flower stems, receiving a reward of nectar for their
the seed begins to develop the flower stalks elongate and the inflorescence
dries out. The dry flower stalks snap off and the wind sends the
spherical heads tumbling along. The tips of the inflorescence containing
the seeds break off, so spreading them. They are fleshy, with a
very short viability period, and germinate immediately. Seeds may
even germinate while still on the flowerhead. This strategy allows
the seedling a full rainy season to develop sufficiently to withstand
its first dry period underground.
Leaves usually appear well after the flowers. Because both the
inflorescence and the leaves lose relatively large amounts of moisture,
this adaptation prevents large quantities of moisture being lost
at any one time, reducing stress on the plants.
Growing Brunsvigia orientalis
Sow Brunsvigia seeds in deep seed trays as soon as possible after
harvesting in a very well-drained, sandy medium to which some fine
compost is added. Press lightly into the soil, so that the top of
the seed remains visible. Water well once and then again only after
the first leaves appear. After that, water well once every two to
three weeks. When the leaves begin to yellow, withhold watering
altogether. Judicious watering starts again when the leaves reappear
after the dormant period. Leave young plants in seed trays for at
least two years before potting up individually into large deep pots
about 30 cm in diameter. Select pots which will hold the mature
plants as they don't enjoy being disturbed again.
If planting into open ground, select a really well-drained position
which only receives natural rains and is not influenced by artificial
watering systems. This is truly a waterwise plant! Also select a
spot where the flowerheads can develop to their full size and be
appreciated without being smothered or hidden by other plants.
Away from the winter rainfall region it would be best to treat
this plant as a pot subject, so that watering can be carefully controlled.
Amaryllids can also be grown from offsets or from scales. Two publications
in the Kirstenbosch Gardening Series, Grow bulbs and Grow nerines,
both by Graham Duncan of the National Botanical Institute, have
further valuable propagation information.
Pests and diseases: These plants have a toxic principle
which prevents them from being eaten by moles and mole rats which
tend to be the scourge of many other bulbous plants planted out
in the garden. They suffer very few other problems.
- SMITH, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs
of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35. The Government
- ADAMSON, R.S. & SALTER, T.A. (eds). 1950. Flora of the
Cape Peninsula. Juta, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
- MANNING, J. & GOLDBLATT, P. 2000. Wild flowers of the
fairest Cape. Red Roof Design in association with the National
Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
- RICE, E.G. & COMPTON, R.H. 1950. Wild flowers of the
Cape of Good Hope. The Botanical Society of SA, Cape Town.
- PAUW, A. & JOHNSON, S. 1999. Table Mountain: a natural
history. Fernwood Press.
- DUNCAN, G.D. 2000. Grow bulbs. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series,
National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
- DUNCAN, G.D. 2002. Grow nerines. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series,
National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
Harold Porter National Botanical Garden