Boophone disticha (L.f.) Herb.
Common names: century plant, poison bulb, sore-eye flower (Eng.); gifbol, seeroogblom, kopseerblom, boesmangif, perdespook (Afr.); kxutsana-yanaha, motlatsisa (So.Sotho); incumbe, siphahluka (Swazi); incotho, incwadi (Xhosa, Zulu); ibhade (Zulu)
Wherever you live in South Africa, in a summer- or winter-rainfall region, along the coast or in a semi-arid area, try Boophone disticha in your garden, as it is a most rewarding bulbous plant.
This is an attractive, deciduous bulbous plant with a thick covering of dry scales above the ground. The large, round heads are sometimes on such short stems that they appear to grow directly from the bulb, almost at ground level. The colour of flowers varies from shades of pink to red and are sweetly scented (July to Oct.).
The pedicels (flower stalks) elongate after flowering to form a large seedhead. This breaks off at the top of the scape (stalk) and tumbles across the veld, dispersing the seed.
The greyish-green leaves are erect, arranged in a conspicuous fan and are usually produced after flowering. This spring-flowering species will flower even if it does not receive any water in winter.
This species is widespread and long-lived but is assessed as Declining by the Red List of South African Plants because wild plants are harvested and sold in large quantities at traditional medicine markets, which is causing the the wild population to decrease, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Distribution and habitat
Boophone disticha is widely distributed in all provinces of South Africa and into tropical Africa. It occurs in dry grassland and on rocky slopes and occurs mainly in summer rainfall regions.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Boophone is derived from the Greek bous = ox, and phone = death, referring to the poisonous properties of the bulb. The specific name disticha means leaves erect in a fan shape.
The large round sweetly scented flowerheads attract bees and flies, which pollinate the flowers. The plants also receive visits from ants.
The bulb is very poisonous.
Boophone disticha is known to be poisonous to cattle and sheep and the Bushman once used the poison for their arrows. The name sore-eye flower refers to the fact that exposure to the open flowers in a confined space may lead to sore eyes and even to a headache.
However, Boophone disticha has many medicinal uses. Traditional healers use it to treat pain and wounds. Parts of the plant are used by certain African tribes and also by some Europeans to cure various ailments: the outer covering of the bulb is applied to boils and abscesses; fresh leaves are used to stop bleeding of wounds.
Growing Boophone disticha
This plant thrives in full sun in well-drained, sandy soil and also in rocky areas. It should be planted in a protected area, although it can stand drought it does not like frost. The bulb should be planted in such a way that the neck and part of the bulb show above the ground. The plants seem to grow equally well in well-drained, sandy soil and in hard ground, but they take a long time to flower after being moved. The bulbs do not produce flowers until they are quite large.
- Du Plessis, N & Duncan, G. Bulbous plants of southern Africa: a guide to cultivation and propagation.Tafelberg, Cape Town.
- Jackson, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meaning of names of South African plant genera. Ecolab, Botany Department, University of Cape Town.
- Pooley, E. 1998. Field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Van der Spuy, U. 1971. Wild flowers of South Africa for the garden. Hugh Keartland, Johannesburg.
- Van Wyk, B. & Malan, S.1988. Field guide to the wild flowers of Witwatersrand and Pretoria region. Struik, Cape Town.
Pretoria National Botanical Garden
August 2005 (conservation status updated July 2016)
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Spring
Flower colour: Red, Pink
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy