This attractive, autumn and winter-flowering bulb from the Eastern
Cape is one of twenty-five Nerine species, all of which are
endemic to southern Africa. This species has attractive, long-lasting
pink or white flowers and makes an ideal container plant.
Nerine gibsonii is an evergreen or summer-growing geophyte
reaching 150-300 mm high. Its several, pale green thread-like leaves
are erect or suberect, distinctly channelled along the upper surface,
and grow up to 20 mm long and 2 mm wide. The globose bulb produces
an entirely subterranean neck up to 35 mm long. The flowers are
strongly zygomorphic with relatively long, broad perianth segments
up to 35 mm long and 7 mm wide. The perianth segments range in colour
from pure white through several shades of pale pink, rarely to purple.
Four to nine flowers are produced per flower stem that reaches up
to 300 mm high. Both the flower stem and flower stalks are minutely
pubescent, and the perianth segments each have a conspicuous dark
pink central keel in the lower half, shading to white or bright
green in the upper half. The perianth segment margins are slightly
wavy and unlike most other nerines, the tips are not recurved. The
stamens have distinct, tooth-like appendages at their bases, white
or pale pink filaments that are bent downwards, and prominent, deep
maroon unripe anthers. The fruit is a papery capsule containing
one to several ellipsoid, pale green, fleshy seeds. Like all other
members of this genus, the seeds of this species do not undergo
a dormant period but germinate almost immediately after they have
matured. The water-rich seeds are able to do so by drawing on nutrients
stored in the plentiful storage tissue of the seed.
Distribution and habitat
Nerine gibsonii has a highly restricted distribution in the
western parts of the former Transkei in the Eastern Cape. Its habitat
has been much reduced by overgrazing and road construction, and
it is currently confined to just a few rather vulnerable sites.
It usually occurs along streambanks in wet, heavy, black, acid soil.
In the wild the bulbs are dormant over the cold winter period but
under cultivation they usually remain evergreen.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The generic name Nerine was established in 1820 by the cleric
and amaryllid expert, Rev. William Herbert, Earl of Carnarvon. 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. The specific epithet gibsonii
commemorates Mr L.F. Gibson of Engcobo in the former Transkei, who
first collected this species in the mid 1950s.
The flowers of Nerine gibsonii are self fertile and do not
require pollinators in order to form seeds. The enlarging, ripening
seeds force the papery fruit capsule to split open, thus releasing
the seeds that fall to the ground and germinate close to the mother
plants, eventually forming large colonies.
Growing Nerine gibsonii
Nerine gibsonii is most suitably grown as a container subject
in a sunny position. Its active growing season extends from early
summer to mid-autumn, during which time it requires heavy watering
about once per week, but in winter it can either be dried off completely,
or watered far less often, about once per month. It tends to remain
evergreen in temperate climates and it likes an acid, well-drained,
sandy growing medium such as equal parts of coarse river sand and
finely sifted, acid compost. In the southern hemisphere, 20-25 cm
diam. plastic pots suit it well, but in cold climates of the northern
hemisphere, terracotta containers are preferable, to ensure adequate
aeration of the growing medium. The bulbs are planted with the top
of the neck resting at or just below soil level. Once planted, they
like to remain undisturbed for at least five years, only needing
lifting and dividing when flowering performance diminishes markedly.
The bulbs do not multiply as rapidly as many other Nerine species
do and they do not require supplementary feeding at all, as feeding
has the effect of producing foliage at the expense of flowers.
This species is best propagated by seeds sown as soon as they are
easily removed from the seed capsules. Sow the seeds evenly in deep
seed trays or pots, in the same acid growing medium suggested for
adult bulbs, and cover with a 1 cm layer of soil medium. Water well
with a fine rose and place in a sunny position, under cover from
heavy rain. Allow the seedlings to grow through their first winter,
and lift them at the beginning of their third spring season and
plant into permanent containers. Flowers can be expected for the
first time during the third or fourth seasons, under ideal conditions.
The leaves, flowers, stems and bulbs of N. gibsonii are highly
susceptible to attack by lily borer (amaryllis caterpillar), and
the bulbs are often subject to the universal mealy bug scourge.
Duncan, G.D. 2002. Grow nerines: 38, 39. Kirstenbosch Gardening
Series. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden