Nerine humulis is a very floriferous, bulbous plant. Flower
colour varies from almost white to deep pink forms having distinctive,
wavy margins to the petals with stamens and styles curving to the
one side. They are easily cultivated and ideally suited for container
cultivation, making them very popular worldwide.
They are deciduous bulbs, growing up to 400 mm tall with four to
six leaves that can be dry or green at flowering and which are strap-shaped,
spreading and prostrate, up to 10 mm wide, and dull green. The 1-8
flowers are carried in a loose umbel, appear from April to June
and vary from white to deep rose-pink, with darker pink, central
keels. Nerine humilis grows in colonies and flowers particularly
well after veld fires. Each petal has interesting wavy margins and
the flower opens like a hand to expose the stamens and style that
all lean to one side with the style always extending beyond the
stamens. The fruiting head ruptures as it dries, releasing the oval
or round-shaped, fleshy seeds. When seeds land in sandy areas they
germinate almost immediately in autumn. The soft tissue surrounding
the seeds acts as a food and moisture supply allowing seeds to germinate
often when still inside the dry fruit capsule. This species includes
N. breachiae, N. peersii and N..tulbaghensis and varies
considerably in size and appearance across its wide distribution
range. The plants in the east are larger with longer, broader leaves
and taller flower stalks; those from around Tulbagh in the west,
are much smaller with narrow linear leaves and short, slender flower
Nerine humilis has a relatively wide distribution and is
not a threatened species. It prefers rocky and mountainous areas
with loamy and sandy to gravelly soils in full shade or partial
sun. It occurs from Clanwilliam (in southern Namaqualand) to Worcester,
Bredasdorp, Montagu to Baviaanskloof in the southern Cape. In the
western part of its range, such as in the Tulbagh area of the southwestern
Cape, the plants are dwarfs and these forms are generally very attractive
when grown in containers. Being from the winter rainfall region
of South Africa, N. humilis is adapted to dry and warm conditions
in the summer, as the plants are dormant during this time of the
year. Plants also seem to do well in colder regions but where frost
occurs, plants are best grown in pots where they can be kept indoors.
What is important is that plants are kept dry in summer, and that
they are grown in sunny or partially shaded areas that are kept
moist during the active growing season from April to November in
the southern hemisphere.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
There is a legend that a consignment of Nerine plants destined
for Holland, washed up on the shores of Guernsey in the Channels
Islands in 1659 as a result of a Dutch or English shipwreck and
apparently these plants flourished there. Actually, the plant was
originally thought to have been a native to Japan! However, it was
Francis Masson who was credited with the discovery of the real native
habitat of N. sarniensis (another Cape species) on Table
Mountain during his expedition to the Cape in 1772. It was the cleric
and amaryllid expert, Rev. William Herbert (1778-1847) son of Henry
Herbert, Earl of Carnavon, who first established the genus Nerine
in 1820. It is unclear whether he named it for Nerine, the Greek
mythological sea nymph and daughter of sea god Nereis and Doris,
or for Nereide the daughter of Nereus, son of Oceanus. By 1821,
Herbert recognized nine species of Nerine, and was also the first
to work in the field of hybridizing this horticulturally important
genus. The family name Amaryllidaceae is from Amaryllus who was
a pretty shepherdess mentioned by Theocritus, Virgil and Ovid. Edmund
Spenser used the name in 1595 for Alice, an ancestress of the Princess
of Wales. The species name humilis refers to the low-growing
nature of most forms of this species. The genus Nerine currently
consists of 25 species and is closely related to another endemic,
southern African genus Brunsvigia. There are mainly three
groups of nerines, namely winter-growing, summer-growing and evergreen
species. Other noteworthy members in this family are Amaryllis
belladonna, Boophane, Cyrtanthus, and Haemanthus.
Because these plants undergo a dormant summer period, they are able
to survive long, hot and dry spells. Flying insects such as bees
and butterflies easily pollinate the striking flowers that raise
the stamens above the flower. The seeds are dispersed as the semi-spherical
fruiting bodies are blown along the ground by the wind.
Uses and cultural aspects
No medicinal uses are recorded for Nerine humilis.. The horticultural
value of these plants cannot be over-emphasized as they do make
extraordinary colour displays in the garden or pot. N. humilis can
easily be grown in the open garden provided that the bulbs do not
receive general garden irrigation in the summer.
Growing Nerine humilis
Nerine humilis and N. sarniensis are particularly
effective when planted in large groups in rockery pockets. It is
best to leave established bulbs untouched for at least five years
as they don't like to be disturbed. Only when plants have become
too overcrowded and the flowering has deteriorated, should plants
be moved and divided. The plants also make excellent container subjects
and can be used together with N. sarniensis on a sunny patio, or
in sunny window boxes.
Excellent water-holding capacity as well as perfect drainage of
the growing medium are two of the most important factors when cultivating
nerines, especially in containers. Ideally one should use a sandy
soil with a little bit of compost and with a slightly acidic pH.
For containers, the best soil mix is equal parts of river sand,
silica sand and finely sifted compost. The bulbs of N. humilis
can be planted with their necks slightly above, or at soil level.
Water the plants once a week from early autumn until early summer
followed by a completely dry summer dormant period.
The best and easiest way to propagate N. humilis is by means of
seeds, which ripen in summer. The seeds are sown in deep seed trays
in a well-drained mixture such as equal parts of river sand, silica
sand (swimming pool sand), and finely sifted compost. Sprinkle seeds
evenly over the surface and cover them with a thin layer of the
same mixture. Watering with a fine rose is ideal. When the first
leaves appear, water only once every two to three weeks. The little
N. humilis seedlings should then be kept dry during summer.
Another way of increasing the plants is to simply divide those groups
that have become too crowded.
The most important pest encountered with nerines is the lily borer
or otherwise known as the amaryllis caterpillar. The tiny caterpillars
bore into the leaf, flower or stem tissue and if left unchecked,
will bore into and consume the bulb itself. Spraying plants with
a carbaryl-based insecticide usually takes care of the problem.
Mealy bugs, thrips and snout beetles are other pests that attack
nerines. They can form large colonies and often transmit viral diseases.
An effective insecticide used as a drench should eradicate the problem.
References and further reading
- Duncan, G. 2002. Grow nerines. Kirstenbosch Gardening
Series. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
- Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. 2003. Plants of southern
Africa: an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14. National
Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Jackson, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meanings of South African
plant genera. University of Cape Town Ecolab., Cape Town.
- Manning, J., Goldblatt, P. & Snijman, D. 2002. The colour
encyclopedia of Cape bulbs. Timber Press, Oregon, USA.
- Mustard, P. & Cowling, R. 1997. Southern Overberg.
Wild Flower Guide No. 8. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape
- Smith, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs
of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35. Botanical
Research Institute, Pretoria.
Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden (Worcester)