Field of Science


Back in 2011, I presented you with a post on the southern African flowering bulb genus Ledebouria. In that post, I mentioned that Ledebouria was just one of a wide diversity of ornamental plants found in that part of the world.

Lachenalia elegans var. flava, from the Pacific Bulb Society.

Lachenalia, sometimes known as Cape cowslips, is a genus of over 100 species found in Namibia and South Africa. Most Lachenalia species sprout and flower in the winter. Lachenalia is not too distant a relative of Ledebouria—both are classified in the squill tribe Massonieae—and bears a distinct resemblance to the latter with its fleshy leaves that are often blotched with purple. Some species of Lachenalia share the geophyllous habit I described in the earlier post for some Ledebouria, with the leaves growing pressed closely to the ground. However, Lachenalia differs from Ledebouria in having flowers with well-developed bracts, and anthers arranged in two series. Also, while the scales of Ledebouria bulbs are often loose, though of Lachenalia bulbs are always tightly packed (Manning et al. 2004).

Lachenalia zebrina f. zebrina, photographed by Alan Horstmann.

Lachenalia species include some popular garden plants, to the extent that some are known as invasive weeds here in the Perth region. Nevertheless, a simple image search immediately shows why they are so popular. Varieties of this genus are available in reds, pinks, yellows, purples... One species, L. viridiflora, has flowers of a quite remarkable turqouise colour. Though revered in cultivation, L. viridiflora is critically endangered in the wild, with a range of only 19 km2 in which it is threatened by grazing, housing development and (almost ironically) the collection of specimens for horticulture.

Lachenalia viridiflora, photographed by A. Harrower.


Manning, J. C., P. Goldblatt & M. F. Fay. 2004. A revised generic synopsis of Hyacinthaceae in sub-Saharan Africa, based on molecular evidence, including new combinations and the new tribe Pseudoprospereae. Edinburgh Journal of Botany 60 (3): 533-568.

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