Habitat: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Cultivation: Easy: we advice to put it in full sun to half-shade, water it only during the growing season, keep it a temperature above 12ºC and to put it in a well-draining substrate.
Curiosity: Members of the genus are known as blood lily and paintbrush lily, for the blood red, intense colour of their flowers. The genus Haemanthus was created in 1753 by Linnaeus. The name is derived from Greek words haima and anthos, meaning “blood flower”.
Haemanthus is a genus of mainly deciduous plants (except for three evergreen species, H. albiflos , H. deformis and H. pauculifolius), herbaceous, perennial bulbous plants, including around 22 species native to Southern Africa. About 15 species occur in the winter rainfall region of Namaqualand and the Western Cape, the remainder being found in the summer rainfall region, with one species Haemanthus albiflos occurring in both regions.
All 22 Haemanthus species occur in southern Africa. Fifteen of them are found almost exclusively in the winter rainfall region and 6 in the summer rainfall region. The climate of all the species imply that the year is markedly divided into a rainfall season and a arid one. During the arid season, only the dormant bulb survive. The species from summer rainfall climate, after that, produce flowers and foliage simultanousely in Summer, while the species from Winter rainfall climates produce flower devoid of foliage in Autumn, while leaves appear in Winter.
Haemanthus have large bulbs, covered in fleshy, scaled-like tunics. They may be deeply buried or superficial, partially coming off the ground, depending on their native climate: species from arid habitat have deeply buried bulbs, while species from humid climate have superficial ones. From the bulbs, deep, strong roots develop: also the roots depth is affected by the climate: the more arid it is, the deeper the roots are. The colour of the bulbs is brownish-beige, with the tunics arranged in two opposite directions, like rows or ranks, in an arrangement called, in botany, distichous. These organs act as a storage of water and nutrients and make Haemanthus able to survive to the dry season typical of its native habitat. The form of the bulbs is a useful feature to distinguish the different Haemanthus species.
From the bulbs, one to six leaves develop. Depending on the species, mature plants can have one, two, four or, rarely six leaves. They are leathery or fleshy in consistance, broad, elongated, tongue-shaped, erect or more or less prostrate, and usually possue a dorsal embossed line. Depending on the species, leaves can show different surface textures: from smooth, to hairy, or even sticky, and they can be more or less narrow. Their colour is usually deep, dark green. They normally dry up during the arid season, and, during blossoming, are replaced by other leaf-like organs called bracteas.
The inflorescence is a umbel-like head, in which the blood-red flowers are clustered together. This head is borne by a thick, fleshy stem called scape. The flowering head is surrounded by the above mentioned bracts, leaf-like organs, usually fleshy in species from the drier habitats and leathery in the species from humid ones. Flowers have a short tube and usually 6 petals, scarlet red with occasional tinges of pink or, rarely, white; and are stinky to attract pollinators such as flies. From flowers, berry-shaped fruits develop, always dark red and fleshy.
Haemanthus bulbs were among the first botanical specimens to be collected and transported to Europe from the Cape by Dutch seafarers. After that, the two species H. coccineus and H. sanguineus has been cultivated in the Netherlands already from the 17th century. Here they became known as the two-leafed African Narcissus and the Cape tulip but they failed to attract any commercial interest.
Haemanthus leaves were traditionally used in the treatment of ulcers and that extracts of the bulb were taken as a diuretic and in the treatment of asthma. They however might have toxic effects, as the limit between medicinal and toxic doses is very narrow: we advice to use them only for ornamental purposes!
VARIETY AND TYPES
Here below are the 22 accepted species of Haemanthus:
- H. albiflos
- H. amarylloides
- H. avasmontanus
- H. barkerae
- H. canaliculatus
- H. carneus
- H. coccineus
- H. crispus
- H. dasyphyllus
- H. deformis
- H. graniticus
- H. humilis
- H. lanceifolius
- H. montanus
- H. namaquensis
- H. nortieri
- H. pauculifolius
- H. pubescens
- H. pumilio
- H. sanguineus
- H. tristis
- H. unifoliatus
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TIPS FOR GROWING
Haemanthus are good plants to be grown in pots or rocky gardens in warm climates. Here below are our cultivation tips:
- Their ideal exposure ranges from full sun to partial shade.
- It is preferable to keep them at mild temperatures, never below 12 °C. If you live in a colder climate, we suggest to shelter them during the winter period, or to put them indoors if you are growing them in a pot.
- It is advisable to always keep the soil moist enough, never dry, to prevent the bulb from drying out. However, beware of stagnant water that could cause rotting. Always wait for the soil to dry completely up before each watering. Water regularly during the growing season and suspend completely the irrigation in Winter, reducing the frequency of intervention gradually during Autumn.
- Choose a well-draining substrate, for example formed by a mixture of peat and pumice.
- They do not need frequent fertilization, it is sufficient to dilute the fertilizer with watering once a year.
- Repotting is not so frequently necessary as these plant are rather slow-growing. Anytime you notice that the bulb is expanding until the edges of the pot you can repot.
Propagation can be carried out either through seeds or the division of the bulbs.