Ledebouria asperifolia (Van der Merwe) S.Venter.
Common names: rough-leaved African hyacinth
Although this species is seldom seen in cultivation, there are some very attractive forms which have beautiful markings on the leaves. It occurs over a vast area of southern Africa, where it is often locally common, with many different regional variations.
Solitary or weakly gregarious (forming loose clumps), deciduous, bulbous plant. The medium-sized bulbs are usually rounded to pear-shaped and covered with numerous layers of membranous, dark brown outer skins (dead bulb scales). The bulbs usually have a conspicuous neck of up to 40–60 mm long. Leaves are mostly triangular to somewhat strap-shaped, with longitudinal rows of asperities (papillae), at least on the underside, towards the base. (This is a useful field character to distinguish the species.) The leaves of this species vary considerably, with many regional forms, ranging from bright green to dull green and even quite bluish; the markings on the leaves are also highly variable, but often have oblong-shaped spots and blotches. Furthermore, the leaves often have a reddish colour on the underside, towards the base.
The small, green to greenish pink flowers, which are produced mainly in spring on unbranched spikes bearing numerous single flowers, arranged along the central peduncle (main stalk), each on a short pedicel (flower stalk), are often white. The flowers have strongly recurved tepals (petals) and usually have violet filaments (anther stalks). The small drop-shaped seeds are produced following the flowers, in green capsules which split open to reveal the shiny, black and wrinkled, seeds.
Least Concern (LC). This species is widespread and very common over large areas of South Africa, it is not considered to be threatened in its natural habitat.
Distribution and habitat
Ledebouria asperifolia is widespread across the eastern parts of South Africa in the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces, common in grassland and savanna.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
This species was originally named as Scilla asperifolia in 1944 by F.Z. van der Merwe. It was later transferred to the genus Ledebouria and regarded as a form of L. revoluta. It was only much later that it was resurrected as a species of Ledebouria on its own by S. Venter, in 2003.
The genus Ledebouria is named in honour of the German-Estonian botanist, Professor Carl Friedrich von Ledebour (1785–1851). The species name asperifolia is derived from two Latin words asper, meaning ‘rough’ and folia, meaning ‘leaf’, in reference to the longitudinal rows of asperities on the leaves, which give them a rough feel.
South Africa has 39 Ledebouria species; the genus is distributed across Africa, India and Madagascar with the centre of species diversity in the eastern parts of southern Africa.
This species is most easily confused with Ledebouria revoluta which has smooth leaf surfaces and never has any longitudinal rows of asperities (papillae) on the leaf surfaces. L. asperifolia is defined by Venter (2003) as having tongue-shaped asperities on the leaves and scape (inflorescence stalk), which is true most of the time at least on the basal portion of the underside of the leaf. The leaf base is often also reddish and the maculations (leaf spots) are normally well defined (when present) and often oblong in shape, although it is not impossible to get variously spotted and immaculate (unspotted) individuals.
Some populations have a glaucous appearance due to a bluish powdery bloom, which covers the leaves. This is particularly the case in the Vryheid-Pongola areas of northern KwaZulu-Natal and some very attractive individuals can be selected from these populations. One population from near Muden in KwaZulu-Natal, has the leaves almost completely covered with the asperities on both surfaces. In the Sekukhuniland area of Mpumalanga, there is a population which is completely immaculate and grows in large clusters of around 20 bulbs or more. These plants look like miniature Eucomis when not in flower. Leaf length and width can be variable between populations, but within the populations are usually quite stable. The florets are densely arranged on the rachis, often with whitish or pale-coloured pedicels (flower stalks) and characteristically small flowers which usually have acute tepal (petal) apices.
Little is documented about the specific ecology of this species. The flowers are open and cup-shaped, which suggests that they are opportunistically pollinated by most visiting insects. In the wild many different insects can be seen visiting the flowers, which are unscented. The inflorescence is decumbent (leaning outwards and downwards) from the rosette of leaves; this may have something to do with optimizing the access to the flowers by terrestrial pollinators. The seed is small, black and roundish. Venter (1993) suggests that Ledebouria seeds are distributed by water wash, which is likely after heavy thunderstorms, which are frequent across the areas where the species occurs.
The genus Ledebouria has been cited as having been used medicinally for purposes including pregnancy, diarrhoea, influenza, backache, skin irritations, wound treatment, as well as lumbago. The genus is also reported as being poisonous, although it is also reported that Bushmen eat the bulbs of certain species (L. apertiflora and L. revoluta). However, these may be cooked or prepared in some manner.
Growing Ledebouria asperifolia
Ledebouria asperifolia has many regional forms. Some selection is necessary to find the most attractive forms for cultivation purposes. The species is well suited to cultivation both in the garden or in containers. Bulbs should be planted in a well-drained, organic-rich, loam soil, with some rough sand added for improved drainage. The addition of sifted kraal (cattle) manure, bone-meal and coarse sand, is beneficial. Plants kept in containers derive benefit from the use of clay or terracotta, which facilitates quicker drying of the soil after rain, as they dislike waterlogging, which usually causes root rot. They prefer a warm climate. Watering should be in the form of deep soaking in between each period of almost drying out. Plants should be kept in full sun to bring out the best leaf markings and colour. During the dry winter dormancy period, the pots should be moved out of the rain and placed in a dry cool area with good air movement. Watering can commence at the onset of warmer weather (August to September in South Africa).
Propagation from seed is a successful method of producing plants. The seed must be sown fresh in spring or summer, in seed trays filled with a sifted organic loam, with some sifted manure and sand added, to facilitate good drainage. The seed can be sown on a firmly tamped surface and lightly covered with the same mixture as above, approximately 3 mm deep. The trays should be kept in a bright, warm position out of direct sunlight and kept damp for between 2 to 3 weeks, until germination has commenced. Once the seedlings have emerged, watering can be reduced. The seedlings can remain in the seedling tray for a year and planted out at the beginning of their second growing season. Flowering size bulbs can be attained after 3 to 4 years.
- Hankey, A. 2011. Ledebouria Roth. PlantZAfrica. Internet 5 pp. http://pza.sanbi.org/ledebouria-genus
- Van der Merwe. 1944. Scilla asperifolia. Flowering Plants of South Africa 24: t.944.
- Venter, S. 2008. Synopsis of the genus Ledebouria Roth (Hyacinthaceae) in South Africa. Herbertia 62: page range?.
- website: Wordnik. https://www.wordnik.com/words/asper, accessed 22 June 2016.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
Soil type: Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer
Flower colour: Green, Pink
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy