Habitat: A wide range of ecoregions in southern Africa, from Sudan to South Africa and Namibia.
Cultivation: Boophone is a tough plant, easy to cultivate: a semi-shaded position, careful watering and an acid, well-drained substrate will do well.
Curiosity: Boophone owes its name to its toxic properties: it comes in fact from the greek words “Bous” (ox) and “phone” (death), for its lethality among livestock.
Boophone is a genus of small, perennial, herbaceous, bulbous plants which belongs to the Amaryllidaceae family. It includes only two species: B. disticha and B. haemanthoides.
These little plants are widespread all through southern Africa: in particular, B. disticha can be found from Sudan to South Africa, while B. haemanthoides is typical of Namibia and part of South Africa. B. disticha’s native regions include winter and summer-rainfall areas, while B. hemanthoides is only from areas with winter-rainfall. Also, B. disticha grows on any kind of soil as long as it’s well-drained, while B. haemanthoides grow generally on sandy soils or dolerite outcrops.
The name “Boophone” comes from the greek words “Bous” (ox) and “phone” (death), due to the toxicity to livestock. Previously it was also spelled as “Boophane”, “Buphone” or “Buphane”, as the botanist who choosed this name, William Herbert, used to write it in these three orthographies.
Due to its containt in alkaloids and its analgesic power in fact, B. disticha was a main ingredient in African traditional medicine: it was used by the Zulus to induce hallucination for divinatory purposes, and also as a poison for arrow and as a remedy for wounds.
Boophones are little plants, remarkable for their flashy fan-shaped appearance. From a big, scaled bulb, in fact, rather wavy-edged, green leaves sprout, in a fan-shaped arrangement which make this plant unique and very sought-after among succulent lovers.
The bulbs, also, are very large and flashy for their scaled and lumpy appearance. They are generally brownish, so that their scales end up to look like an odd bark, peeling and, in some parts, papery. Their function is to store water and nutrients to make the plant survive the harsh, arid conditions of its natural environment. Also, these bulbs are very long-lived: the largest ones found in the wild can be also one hundred years old!
Leaves are wavy, erect, bright green and arranged in this remarkable, fan-shaped structure, as mentioned above. In winter or Summer (depending on the species and its native region), a Boophone enters dormancy and the old leaves dry up and end up in “blending” with the bulb. Observing an old bulb, we can in fact distinguish some kind of streaks, which are the leaves of the past vegetative seasons, which have fused together and formed the bulb. That’s why the older is the plant, the larger is the bulb.
Blossoming take place on a long stem, on the top of which sprouts a big umbrella inflorescence holding numerous flowers, white, scarlet red or pink in B. disticha and generally pink or white in B. haemanthoides. In both species, anyway, flowers have 6 thin, lanceolate petals in a star-shaped arrangement.
Flowers end up to turn into fruits with an enlarged, rounded base and a long thin filament, often purplish in colour.
VARIETY AND TYPES
This genus includes only two species:
- B. disticha
- B. haemanthoides
TIPS FOR GROWING
Boophones are not so difficult to cultivate due to the wide range of different habitats, which make them very adaptable. Here are our cultivation tips:
- The best exposure for your Boophone is half-shaded, though it also tolerate direct sunlight.
- The minimum tolerated temperature for Boophones is -5ºC as lond as its substrate is maintained dry.
- Bulbs should be planted in a acid substrate, with sand and compost in equal parts: a succulent mix will certainly do well anyhow, as long as it’s sufficiently well-drained.
- These plants should be grown in large pot, with a minimum diameter of 25 centimeters, to allow the large bulb to develop.
- Water carefully to avoid root rot: during the vegetative period, wait until the soil dries up before each watering, and check the soil with your finger before any irrigation. During its dormancy period, reduce the watering frequency until finally suspending the irrigation totally.
- Repotting will be not so frequently necessary: proceed when you notice that the bulb is approaching the sides of the pot!
Propagation is usually done by seeds: these should be sown as soon as they are removable from the Boophane fruits. They will need two months to germinate, and up to five years to bloom for the first time.