beautiful cyrtanthus with its curious 'shepherd's crook' flower
stem and long arching leaves is very easily cultivated and deserves
to be grown more widely.
Cyrtanthus falcatus is a deciduous, summer-growing bulbous
plant producing a large, pear-shaped bulb with a distinct neck.
It has four arching, leathery, strap-shaped, bright green leaves
and a pendent inflorescence of numerous long, narrowly trumpet-shaped
flowers. The flower buds appear in mid-spring together with the
new leaves. The sturdy, maroon flower stem grows rapidly to a height
of up to 300 mm and is distinctly curved in the uppermost part,
resembling a shepherd's crook. Due to the unusual horizontal or
downward-facing position of the bulbs in habitat, the flower stem
bends upwards into an erect posture. Up to ten flowers are produced
per inflorescence and the flowers have long perianth tubes up to
4 cm long. The outer surface of the perianth segments is pale yellowish-green
with reddish-pink margins, while the inner surface is attractively
striped with brownish-maroon. The anthers are bright yellow, and
the style is straight with a maroon tip. The fruit is an oblong-shaped
capsule that splits longitudinally, releasing numerous black, flattened
Distribution and habitat
Cyrtanthus falcatus is only known to occur in Grassland of
the Drakensberg mountains in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, South Africa,
usually below 1800 m. The bulbs are found on vertical cliffs, either
hanging downwards or lying in a horizontal position, with the roots
securely anchored between rock slabs.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Cyrtanthus falcatus was described by Dr R.A. Dyer in 1939.
The genus name Cyrtanthus means curved flower, and is derived
from the Greek kyrtos (curved) and anthos (flower).
The species name falcatus means sickle-shaped or curved in
Latin, and refers to the distinctive sickle-shaped or curved foliage.
Cyrtanthus falcatus is probably pollinated by sunbirds that
cling to the sturdy flower stem and probe the base of the perianth
tubes for nectar.
Uses and cultural aspects
Not known to be used by the indigenous peoples of South Africa.
Growing Cyrtanthus falcatus
C. falcatus is one of the easiest species to cultivate and
it is most successfully grown as a container subject. Hanging baskets,
or shallow or deep, 30-35 cm diameter plastic containers are most
suitable. It requires a sharply drained growing medium such as equal
parts of coarse river sand and finely milled bark or finely milled
compost. The bulbs are planted with the entire neck and about one
third of the bulb exposed. It does best in a lightly shaded position
or one receiving morning sun and afternoon shade. A thorough drench
is recommended every seven to ten days from mid-spring to the end
of the summer growing period, until the leaves begin to turn yellow
and die back in autumn. During late autumn and throughout the winter
months, the soil should preferably be kept completely dry, but the
bulbs can withstand some moisture provided the soil medium is sharply
drained. The bulbs are gregarious and should be allowed to form
thick clumps, and left undisturbed for at least five years, until
clumps become too thick and flowering performance diminishes.
Propagation of C. falcatus is easily achieved by means of
offsets and seed. In order to obtain pure seed, cross-pollination
by hand is necessary between different clones. The black, flat papery
seeds of Cyrtanthus
species have limited viability and are best sown as soon as
they are ripe, in deep seed trays in the same growing medium recommended
for adult bulbs. The seeds are sown just under the surface and kept
moist using a fine rose. Germination takes place within three to
four weeks and seedlings should remain in their seed trays for two
growing seasons before being planted out into permanent containers
at the beginning of their third season. First flowers can be expected
from the fifth season onwards, under ideal conditions. Offsets are
best removed at the end of winter, just before active growth begins.
They are removed by gentle tugging, and should not be forcibly broken
off as this may cause excessive damage to the basal plate. Damaged
surface should be treated with a fungicide and be replanted as soon
as possible to prevent desiccation of the perennial fleshy roots.
References and further reading
- Duncan, G.D. 1990. Cyrtanthus - its horticultural potential,
Part 1.Veld & Flora 76(1): 18-21.
- Duncan, G.D. 1990. Cyrtanthus - its horticultural potentail,
Part 2. Veld & Flora 76(2): 54-56.
- Dyer, R.A. 1939. Description, classification and phylogeny.
A review of the genus Cyrtanthus . Herbertia 6: 65-103.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wildflowers of KwaZulu-Natal
and the eastern region. Flora Publications, Durban.
- Reid, C. and Dyer, R.A., 1984. A review of the southern African
species of Cyrtanthus. The American Plant Life Society, La
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden