Lachenalia lutzeyeri G.D.Duncan
Common names: Lutzeyer’s lachenalia
A beautiful Lachenalia that’s born from the ashes. Burning to know more about this species? Let’s see what makes this such a special Lachenalia.
Lachenalia lutzeyeri is a deciduous, winter-growing geophyte, 200–400 mm high, with an unusually deep-seated, globose, white bulb, 20–25 mm diameter, with membranous, dark brown outer tunics and many roots. It produces 1 or 2 leaves, narrowly lance shaped, 85–290 × 4–13 mm, prostrate, spreading or suberect and yellowish green or pale to deep maroon. The leaf surface is plain or with dark green, brown or maroon flattened pustules and the margins are thickened. The leaf clasps the stem underground, and most of it, about 85 mm, is underground, with only a short portion of 15 mm above ground.
The inflorescence is a many-flowered, moderately dense raceme, 50–120 mm long, with a sterile apex up to 10 mm long. The flower stalk is green and unmarked, or yellowish green and heavily marked with minute maroon speckles or small to large maroon blotches. The flowers are oblong to bell-shaped, 2–3 mm long, nodding, anthers exserted, yellowish cream with dark green or brown gibbosities, with a moderately strong, soapy-sweet scent, fading to dull maroon and ascending in fruit. It flowers in early summer (Nov.), but only after fires.
Lachenalia lutzeyeri is assessed as Vulnerable (VU) on the Red List of South African Plants. The potential threat that this species currently faces is irregular fire regimes.
Distribution and habitat
Lachenalia lutzeyeri is endemic to South Africa, only known from the type locality on Witkransberg in the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, which is near Gansbaai, 170 km from Cape Town in the Overberg region in the Western Cape. The major habitat type for this species is Overberg Sandstone Fynbos, in coastal areas.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Lachenalia is named after the Swiss botanist Werner de Lachenal (1739–1800). This species is 1 of 6 endemics of the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. It is named in honour of Heiner Lutzeyer, who first collected it on the upper slopes of Witkransberg after a small fire in November 2004. It was sent to the Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch and was thought to be an unusual form of Lachenalia montana that also occurs in the area. However, after the huge fire in February 2006, thousands of this ‘unusual form’ of L. montana appeared on the sandstone ridges of the reserve. It was then classified as a new species, Lachenalia lutzeyeri. Remarkably, although many leaves were seen in the second year after the fire, only three plants were seen flowering and by year three it had all but disappeared from the landscape, waiting underground for the next fire to bloom and seed.
The genus Lachenalia is endemic to southern Africa, and is the largest genus in the family Hyacinthaceae, containing ±110 species that occur in Namibia and South Africa, where it occurs in the Free State and the Northern, Western and Eastern Cape Provinces, with the vast majority occurring in the winter-rainfall region.
This species grows in full sun in open aspects or between Table Mountain Sandstone boulders, on a number of ridges in the reserve, between about 350 and 400 m above sea level. Lachenalia lutzeyeri is presently only known from the type locality on Witkransberg on Grootbos. It has remained undetected until recently owing to its extremely erratic flowering, and its dependence on summer or early autumn fires, coupled with its very late flowering period and the slim chance of it being recognized as a distinct taxon due to its superficial similarity to other members of the genus. Lachenalia lutzeyeri is remarkable in being one of only three members of this genus known to be entirely dependent on the effects of fire for flowering to occur. The others being L. montana and L. sargeantii.
The flowers are visited by butterflies.
There are no recorded cultural uses but this could be a wonderful candidate for the horticultural trade, especially as a pot plant, although further research is needed to determine whether the plants would flower in ex situ conditions.
Growing Lachenalia lutzeyeri
Lachenalia lutzeyeri is difficult in cultivation, almost always only producing leaves and flowers after a fire in the preceding summer and the bulbs can stay dormant indefinitely in cultivation unless they are burnt. (G.D. Duncan 2020, pers. comm.) A technique to induce it to flower in cultivation has not yet been found.
Grow it in well-drained, acidic, sandy potting soil such as one consisting of about half coarse washed sand and half finely sieved compost. This should be used to fill the lower two-thirds of the pot. The upper third should be pure sand with no loam or compost into which the bulbs are planted. This layer stays relatively dry preventing the bulbs from rotting if they get too wet, while the roots can safely penetrate the richer moister organic medium below. Plant the bulbs in mid-autumn at a depth of 15-20 mm and water well. Once the leaves have developed, drench them with water once a week. The plants should be kept in full sun and will grow very happily outside during the winter months, providing the temperature does not drop below freezing. In summer the bulbs should be kept dry, preferably in a cool position. One may either lift the bulbs and store them in paper bags or store them in their pots. They enjoy being repotted every 2-3 years with fresh medium. Lachenalia lutzeyeri is not suitable for general garden conditions with summer irrigation, the bulbs will rot if they receive water in summer.
Lachenalias are easily propagated by leaf cuttings, which can be removed from the plant by slicing them at the base of the leaf blade. These leaves are then half-buried in a very sandy medium and left in a cool place out of direct sunlight. The soil should be kept on the dry side to avoid the leaves rotting while the humidity can be quite high: humid air and dry soil is the trick. Within a few months, small bulbils will appear along the cut edge at the base of the leaf. Eventually the leaf will wither but the bulbils can be planted like normal bulbs the following season. Flowering will take 1-2 years.
Lachenalias are also easily raised from seed, which should be sown in autumn in a similar medium used for cultivation with a thin layer of soil placed over the seed. Water them gently but regularly in the first few weeks. The seedlings should germinate within about 2-3 weeks. Flowering will take 2-3 years.
Not much fertilizing is required for these bulbs as they are not generally very hungry, but they wouldn't be adverse to the odd splash of a dilute low-nitrogen liquid fertilizer.
- Duncan, G.D. 1988. The Lachenalia Handbook. Annals of Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden, Vol. 17. National Botanic Gardens of South Africa, Cape Town.
- Duncan, G.D. 2007. Lachenalia sargeantii W.F.Barker (Hyacinthaceae). PlantZAfrica. Online. http://pza.sanbi.org/lachenalia-sargeantii
- Duncan, G.D. & Edwards, T.J. 2002. A new pyrophytic Lachenalia species (Massonieae) from Western Cape, South Africa. Bothalia, 37(1): 31-34
- Jackson, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meanings of names of South African plant genera. University of Cape Town.
- Snijman, D.A. (ed.). 2013. Plants of the Greater Cape Floristic Region 2: The Extra Cape Flora. Strelitzia 30. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Privett, S. & Lutzeyer, H. 2010. Field guide to the Flora of Grootbos Nature Reserve and the Bay Walker Region. Craft Print International, Singapore.
- Manyama, P.A. 2007. Lachenalia lutzeyeri G.D.Duncan. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2017.1
Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW)
Acknowledgements: images by Vera Frith and Ismail Ebrahim
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Early Summer
Flower colour: Pink, Cream
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Challenging