Bulb Bullets

Have you ever wondered about the origin of the names of some of our bulbous plant genera? Here are some interesting ones:

  • Agapanthus - agape = love; anthos = flower.
  • Haemanthus - haima = blood; anthos = a flower. Colour of the perianth in some species.
  • Lachenalia - After Werner de Lachenal (1736-1800), professor of botany at Basel.
  • Moraea - Linnaeus married Sara Elisabeth Moraea, physician's daughter from Falun, Sweden.
  • Ornithogalum - In Greek, ornithos = bird; gala = milk (pigeon's milk)
  • Oxalis - Refering to the oxalic acid contents of the bulbs.
  • Romulea - After Romulus, co-founder and first king of Rome; genus also in Italy.
  • Spiloxene - In Greek, spilos = stain; xenos = host. This refers to the spotted base of tepals in some species.
  • Watsonia - After Sir William Watson (1715-1787), London physician and naturalist.
  • Wurmbea - After F von Wurmb, a Dutch merchant in Java.
  • Zanthedeschia - After Francesco Zanthedeschi (1773-1846). Italian physician and botanist.

Reference: "Botanical Names: Origin and Meaning: Wild Flowers of the Cape Peninsula", compiled by Deon Kesting. This book is available at the Kirstenbosch shop or through the Friends of the Silvermine area.


A few more interesting facts about bulbs:

  • Roodebloem road in Cape Town is named after the bright red Gladiolis watsonius, which was common on the lower slopes of the hills and mountains around Cape Town until the 1930's.

  • It has been established that rodents pollinate Massonia depressa, a ground-hugging bulb from the Knersvlakte in the Northern Cape.It is suspected that there may be a whole group of our bulbs that use the same strategy. These are the only South African plants, apart from some protea species, that rely on rodents for pollination.

  • There is extreme variation in size within the genus Brunsvigia, from the diminutive Brunsvigia radula, which is only a few centimeters high, to B. josephinae, which reaches up to 2m when in full bloom.

  • A number of Babianas (Bobbejaantjies) have very interesting flower adaptations for pollination by birds. These flowers are typically bright red and have a long tube with the nectar stored at its base. Additionally, Babiana ringens has a stiff sterile stem, which protrudes prominently above the rest of the flower and serves as a landing platform when accessing the nectar.

  • Members of the Gethyllis genus (koekamakranka), are triggered to flower synchronously by the occasional cold fronts that reach the Western Cape during the early summer months. It is suspected that this is a reaction to the sudden drop in temperature and barometric pressure, which accompany these weather patterns.


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