Brunsvigia orientalis (L.) Aiton ex Eckl.
Common names: candelabra flower, red candelabra flower, king candelabra, chandelier lily, chandelier plant, sore-eye flower (Eng.), ajuinbol, koningskandelaarblom, kandelaarblom, kandelaarlelie, lantanter, Maartblom, marsblom, perdespookbossie, rolbossie, seeroogblom and tanteletant (Afr.)
Brunsvigia orientalis is one of the exciting surprises experienced in the late summer, when little else is flowering. The emergence of large pinkish 'eggs' suddenly pushing their way above ground, and then very quickly elongating and becoming topped with spectacular red spherical flowerheads is a sight to behold! What makes them even more surprising is that they pop up out of the bare ground, normally without a leaf in sight!
A large bulbous perennial from which flowers emerge between February and March. The flowerhead forms a huge sphere, up to 600 mm in diameter, with between 20 to 80 flowers. These are large, 6-tepalled, pink to red and are soon followed by the 3-sided seed capsules.
The leaves appear from about May, after the flowerhead has dried and broken off. There are generally 6 large tongue-shaped leaves spread flat on the ground. The margins are often fringed. Leaves start to die down from about October and the bulb lies dormant during summer.
According to the Red List of South African Plants, Brunsvigia orientalis is assessed as Least Concern (LC). Its wild population is stable and it is not threatened.
Distribution and habitat
These plants occur on sandy lowland coastal areas from southern Namaqualand to the Cape Peninsula and Plettenberg Bay.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Brunsvigia honours the House of Brunswick.
The common name kandelaarblom was first noted in about 1750. Many of the common names refer to the candelabra-like inflorescence and have been extended to several other species in the family with a similar appearance.
Some of the names refer to flowering time, while others such as rolbossie and perdespookbossie refer to the inflorescence which tumbles (rol) along and which may spook horses (perde) in so doing!
Apparently if you stared long enough at the flower you got sore eyes, hence the name sore-eye flower! A more likely explanation is that pollen in the eyes would account for the irritation. Hesse reported that the very first kandelaarsbloem to flower in Europe was in the Academy Garden of Helmstad, but no date is given.
The candelabra flower, like many other amaryllids, has adapted to the dry period of the year by resting underground in the form of a large bulb. In the Western Cape the dry season is summer. All above-ground parts dry out during this time to help prevent moisture loss through transpiration. Just before the rainy season is due to start the huge flowerhead appears.
Birds, including sunbirds, are the chief pollinators. They perch on the sturdy flower stems, receiving a reward of nectar for their pollination activities.
Once the seed begins to develop the flower stalks elongate and the inflorescence dries out. The dry flower stalks snap off and the wind sends the spherical heads tumbling along. The tips of the inflorescence containing the seeds break off, so spreading them. They are fleshy, with a very short viability period, and germinate immediately. Seeds may even germinate while still on the flowerhead. This strategy allows the seedling a full rainy season to develop sufficiently to withstand its first dry period underground.
Leaves usually appear well after the flowers. Because both the inflorescence and the leaves lose relatively large amounts of moisture, this adaptation prevents large quantities of moisture being lost at any one time, reducing stress on the plants.
Growing Brunsvigia orientalis
Sow Brunsvigia seeds in deep seed trays as soon as possible after harvesting in a very well-drained, sandy medium to which some fine compost is added. Press lightly into the soil, so that the top of the seed remains visible. Water well once and then again only after the first leaves appear. After that, water well once every two to three weeks. When the leaves begin to yellow, withhold watering altogether. Judicious watering starts again when the leaves reappear after the dormant period. Leave young plants in seed trays for at least two years before potting up individually into large deep pots about 30 cm in diameter. Select pots which will hold the mature plants as they don't enjoy being disturbed again.
If planting into open ground, select a really well-drained position which only receives natural rains and is not influenced by artificial watering systems. This is truly a waterwise plant! Also select a spot where the flowerheads can develop to their full size and be appreciated without being smothered or hidden by other plants.
Away from the winter rainfall region it would be best to treat this plant as a pot subject, so that watering can be carefully controlled.
Amaryllids can also be grown from offsets or from scales. Two publications in the Kirstenbosch Gardening Series, Grow bulbs and Grow nerines, both by Graham Duncan of the National Botanical Institute, have further valuable propagation information.
Pests and diseases: These plants have a toxic principle which prevents them from being eaten by moles and mole rats which tend to be the scourge of many other bulbous plants planted out in the garden. They suffer very few other problems.
- SMITH, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35. The Government Printer, Pretoria.
- ADAMSON, R.S. & SALTER, T.A. (eds). 1950. Flora of the Cape Peninsula. Juta, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
- MANNING, J. & GOLDBLATT, P. 2000. Wild flowers of the fairest Cape. Red Roof Design in association with the National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
- RICE, E.G. & COMPTON, R.H. 1950. Wild flowers of the Cape of Good Hope. The Botanical Society of SA, Cape Town.
- PAUW, A. & JOHNSON, S. 1999. Table Mountain: a natural history. Fernwood Press.
- DUNCAN, G.D. 2000. Grow bulbs. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series, National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
- DUNCAN, G.D. 2002. Grow nerines. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series, National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
Harold Porter National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Bulb, Perennial
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Late Summer, Autumn
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: Red
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average