INFORMATION ABOUT CAPE COWSLIP…
By: Nikki Phipps
Image by Quinn Dombrowski The cape region of South Africa is among the most botanically diverse areas in the world and home to some of the most beautiful, if not unusual, bulbous flowers. One such plant is the South African native, Cape Cowslip (Lachenalia aloides).
The genus Lachenalia consists of about 90 species of bulbous perennials most often found on seasonally moist grasslands or rocky sites. L. aloides is the most common form with several varieties, most in bicolors. Other Lachenalias most often seen are L. pendula, with 1 1/2 inch long flowers in yellow and red or L. bulbifera , a slightly larger species with orange-red flowers tipped with green. L. contaminata has quite a different appearance all together, having round, grassy leaves and dense spikes of smaller flowers that are pure white flowers and tipped (contaminated) with rust.
The bulbs produce clumps of strap-like, light to dark green leaves and erect stems that are topped with tapering spikes of nodding, tubular flowers. The oftentimes maroon-speckled foliage varies from species to species with some leaves being hairy and others smooth.
The flowers, too, vary enormously in color, ranging from yellow, orange, red, and white to blue, green, and purple. They are often bi-colored or tri-colored as well; for instance, green tipped with cream or pink with dark tips. Some species are sweetly scented, others are not. All species, however, are winter growing and dormant in summer.
Lachenalia look stunning as edging for beds and borders or massed in a rock garden. They are also excellent pot plants and also work as cut flowers. Growing up to a foot tall, these winter-bloomers provide spectacular color combinations when there’s little else in the garden. Although tolerant of neglect, even thriving on it, these frost-tender plants may need to be grown indoors in cold climate areas.
Cape cowslip can be grown in full sun or light shade but prefers well-drained, humus-rich, sandy soil. Some Lachenalia species will also grow and bloom in clay soil, provided there is adequate drainage. Plant the bulbs in the fall a couple of inches deep.
Group them together, up to five bulbs, for an interesting effect. Regular deep watering during the entire growing season (winter and spring) is necessary; however, watering should cease in summer to keep the bulbs dry during their dormancy. Water again once growth appears, keeping the soil moist until foliage dies off after flowering.
Cape cowslip can be left in the ground for many years to naturalize, or if desired, the bulbs can be lifted while dormant, replanting the following growing season. Those growing in pots can be brought indoors during summer until the following autumn.
Propagation is by offsets or by seed sown in autumn. However, most species will not flower from seed until the third year of cultivation. Lachenalia can also be multiplied by leaf cuttings.
Generally, Cape cowslip is pest and disease free, but may occasionally be attacked by mealy bugs or aphids, which can easily be treated. However, any plants showing signs of viral disease should be discarded as not to affect any of the other healthy ones.