Boophone haemanthoides (F.M. Leight)
Common names: Namaqua century plant (Eng.), kwaslelie, gifbol (Afr.)
Boophone haemanthoides is a geophyte growing up to 50 cm. It looks very much like a primitive plant with at least two-thirds of its massive scaly bulb visible above ground. Some of the largest bulbs can be more than a hundred years old!
A great deal of the large bulb of Boophone haemanthoides can be seen above ground. Many wavy-edged leaves, which are not present in flowering season, are arranged in a spreading fan and are blue-grey. Both the leaves and bulb are highly poisonous.
Around mid-summer, the bulb sends up a brush-like flower head. The flowers, which are cream at first and become pink as they age, are enclosed in two reddish bracts and are frangipani scented. As the flower head matures it grows into a big sphere, which breaks off as it dries.
The dry flower heads, which contain the seeds, roll and topple in the wind ensuring that the seeds are spread far and wide. As seed heads often come to rest when blown against fences, larger numbers of the plants are found growing along fences than elsewhere.
The leaves only develop after flowering and remain for about five months after which the plant goes dormant until the next summer.
This species is assessed as Least Concern by the Red List of South African Plants, which means that it is not considered to be threatened. However, due to the cultivation of large areas of land, many of these plants have been lost in the areas where it previously occurred. Farmers and landowners have a key role to play when it comes to the conservation of these beautiful and unusual plants. It is a special experience to see one of these increasingly rare plants in flower in the wild.
Distribution and habitat
Boophone haemanthoides can be found in dolerite and limestone outcrops in the winter-rainfall area of Namaqualand and the Western Karoo.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name of the genus is derived from the Greek bous = ox and phonos = slaughter, refering to the poisonous properties of the bulb, capable of killing an ox. The species name haemanthoides is derived from the Greek haima meaning blood and anthos a flower.
There are quite a few other common names such as oxbane, gifbol (= poisonous bulb), and tumble weed, as well as descriptive names such as sore-eye flower (because of the irritation thought to be caused by the pollen of the plant) and perdespook (horse-ghost) referring to the flower head which frightens horses as it rolls across the veld.
Boophone haemanthoides is pollinated by bees and flies which visit the frangipani-scented flowers. The plants are also visited by ants.
Growing Boophone haemanthoides
The seeds can be removed after the seed heads have dried on the plants. Sow the seeds after the last frost. As it does not store well it's best to sow them as soon as possible. Full sun is the best position to sow or plant them in.
Boophone haemanthoides grows well in a pot, which doesn't have to be wide, but should be deep, at least 400 mm in depth because of the large bulb. It needs a sandy, well drained soil mixture. Equal parts of river sand and industrial sand is recommended. If you decide to add compost it should not make up more than one third of the mixture, but the more sand incorporated the better the results will be. If planted in a container, where it will remain for a long time, some bone meal should be added.
A layer of broken stone or bark chips should always be placed over the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot or container. If using some compost, place that over the drainage holes and fill the rest of the container with the sandy mixture.
When planting Boophone haemanthoides bulbs make sure that at least two-thirds of the bulb is above ground level. Water the plant well and then not again until the leaves start appearing. Thereafter a good soaking once a month should be sufficient. No water should be given during the dormant months.
Although the plant tolerates a certain amount of frost it's a good idea to protect it from sub-zero temperatures.
Danger: Parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested and the pollen may cause an allergic reaction.
- 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.
- Manning, John & Goldblatt, Peter. 2007. Nieuwoudtville: Bokkeveld Plateau & Hantam. South African Wild Flower Guide 9. The Botanical Society of South.
- Duncan, D. Graham. 2000. Grow Bulbs. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
Hantam National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: Northern Cape, Western Cape
Soil type: Clay, Loam
Flowering season: Late Summer
PH: Alkaline, Neutral
Flower colour: Pink, Cream
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average