Bowiea

Family: Asparagaceae
Habitat: Southern Africa
Cultivation: Bowiea is not difficult to cultivate. Choose a well-draining soil, put it in a partially-shaded spot at mild temperatures and water it carefully.
Curiosity: The Bowiea genus is named after the British plant collector James Bowie.

KEY FEATURES

Bowiea is a monospecific genus in the family of Asparagaceae. The only one species recognised is B. volubilis, which has two subspecies: B. volubilis subsp. gariepensis and B. volubilis subsp. volubilis.

Bowiea is from Southern Africa: in particular, it’s widespread in a region going from South Africa to Kenya. Its habitat ranges from 300 to 2300 meters above the sea level, and it consists in Savannas or grasslands, bushlands, in slopes and rocky soils, in semi-arid climates, with an annual rainfall of 200-800 millimeters. Usually, the bulbs grow in the shade of bushes or little trees, on which they cling during their vegetative season. The populations of these plants are endangered by the medicinal plant harvesting, which is a common habit in South Africa.

Bowiea is a really unusual, odd, perennial plant. It’s made of a big bulb, definitely similar to an onion (25 centimeters in diameter, growing 20 centimeters above soil). This bulb is pale green and has overlapping, fleshy scales which turn papery during the Winter, when the plant enters dormancy. During the vegetative season, instead, vine-like, thin, branched long stems develop. These stems usually cling on bushes or little trees: in cultivation, you will need a support to make them twine to. The stems are covered with many leafless side-branches that may fall off. During the vegetative rest, instead, the stems are absent and remains only the bulb. From the peeling scales, new bulbs may be formed.

The stems develop in late Winter. They are slender, threadlike, twining and much branched. They can reach 10 meters in height. It look like a kind of an elongated asparagus, leafless. The photosynthesis is carried out by the green part of the bulb and the stems.

There are, actually, 1-2 little leaves, small and lanceolate: they sprout from the bulb and wither early, soon replaced by the flowering, slender stems.

Flowers are borne by the little branches of the slender stems, are greenish-white, 10-17 centimeters wide, star-shaped with their petals fused together at the base, forming 6 prominent lobes. The scent of the flowers is unpleasant, and they are produced abundantly only if the plant receives plenty of direct sunlight. The blooming season occurs in Spring, though sometimes there’s a second blossoming in Autumn.

The fruits are actually capsules. A capsule, in botany, is a dry fruit that opens when ripe. It splits from apex to base into separate segments known as valves, as in the iris, or forms pores at the top as in the poppy. The capsules o Bowieas are green and they split into three valves when ripen, to let out black, oblong, shiny seeds, 5-10 millimeters long.

VARIETY AND TYPES

As said above, there is only one species of Bowiea: Bowiea volubilis. There are two subspecies of B. volubilis:

  • B. volubilis subsp. volubilis
  • B. volubilis subsp. gariepensis

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TIPS FOR GROWING

Bowiea is not difficult to cultivate and will look gorgeous in a hanging pot or either placed near a support on which its slender, intricate stems can cling. Here below are our cultivation tips.

  • It requires plenty of light all year round, still avoid direct sun rays.
  • It is preferable to keep it at mild temperatures and never below 13 °C, for this reason it is recommended to shelter it during the winter period.
  • Water regularly but moderately during the growing season, always making sure that the soil is always dry between one watering and the next one. During the vegetative rest period, suspend watering.
  • A well-draining and porous soil is an optimal solution, even better if further enriched with 50% of inert materials such as pumice, lapilli, clay.
  • They do not need frequent fertilization, it is sufficient to dilute the fertilizer with watering once a year.
  • Pay attention while handling Bowiea, as all parts of the plants contain toxic cardiac glycosides that can cause minor skin irritation in sensistive people. This kind of reactions is actually very unlikely, but we suggest anyway to be careful.
  • Repotting is not frequently necessary. Repot anytime the bulb becomes as large as the pot

Propagation can be carried out either through seeds and through the division of the bulbs. We suggest to use the second method as it is really easy to realize and has an high rate of success. it’s sufficient to detach the baby bulbs that sprout from the fragments of the mother bulb scales and replant them in a new pot: they will easily thrive as they are kept in a sunny spot.

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