Ledebouria atropurpurea (N.E.Br.) J.C.Manning & Goldblatt
Common names: purple African hyacinth
An uncommon bulbous plant with broadly lanceolate, hairy leaves and small purple flowers in spring.
Small bulbous plant, usually solitary or forming small groups. The whitish bulb is 45 mm long and 30 mm wide, as with other species in the section Drimiopsis this species does not develop a tunic of dead bulb scales around the bulb as is common in section Ledebouria. Leaves 1 or 2 per bulb, produced in early summer, 130 mm long and 45mm wide, broadly lanceolate to hastate basally, usually with a pseudopetiole (false leaf stalk), light green and variously marked with spots, blotches or banding towards the base of the pseuduopetiole or completely immaculate. The upper surface is dull and covered with sparse erect hairs. The underside of the leaf is smooth, usually green to pinkish-green or green with greenish-brown or purplish banding patterns towards the base.
Flowers are produced in early spring and summer (September to November). Each bulb produces a solitary, elongated inflorescence, which can be up to 200 mm long, initially erect, soon becoming floppy. Numerous, loosely arranged, purple to slatey-purple, nodding flowers (florets) are presented on a green flower stalk. Each floret is comprised of 6 hooded tepals (petals), and is attached by a short pedicel (floret stalk). Typical of the section Drimiopsis, the flowers are scented and the tepals only open very slightly creating a small pore through which the pollinators must squeeze to access the nectar and pollen. The seeds produced quickly after the flowers, black, glossy and drop-shaped.
This species is not considered to be under threat and is consequently listed as Least Concern (LC) in the Red List of South African plants.
Distribution and habitat
Ledebouria atropurpurea occurs in Mpumalanga and northern KwaZulu-Natal, mostly in forest or forest margin or under bush clumps, often amongst rocks. This species is endemic to South Africa.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
This species was first named as Drimiopsis atropurpurea by N.E. Brown in 1921, from a plant collected near the town of Barberton in Mpumalanga. In 2004 it was transferred to the genus Ledebouria by Prof. John Manning, who, in 2012, also created two sections in Ledebouria to accommodate the closely allied groups (section Drimiopsis and section Resnova) that were formerly recognised as separate genera. Another similar species, D. purpurea was named by F.Z. van der Merwe in 1946 from a plant collected in the Luneberg area, and this was combined into D. atropurpurea by J.P. Jessop in his revision of the genus in 1972. Although D. purpurea has a more gregarious habit, with longer pseuduopetioles, darker green leaves and brighter purple flowers, they are now regarded as variations within the same species.
The genus Ledebouria is named in honour of the German-Estonian botanist, Professor Carl Friedrich von Ledebour (1785–1851). South Africa has 61 species of Ledebouria, with several more species occurring across southern, western, eastern and northeast Africa and into India. The genus Ledebouria is a member of the Hyacinth Family and is well represented especially across eastern summer rainfall parts of South Africa. The name atropurpurea is derived from two Latin words, atro- meaning ‘dark’ and -purpurea meaning ‘purple’, in reference to the dark purple flowers of the species.
There is little formal research published on the specific ecology of this species or the section Drimiopsis. The flowers are typically shy and only open very slightly, with the outer tepals opening slightly more than the inner petals which remain quite closed and cover the inner parts of the flowers. Pollinators such as small solitary bees (Genus Nomia Fam. Halictidae) have been observed physically opening the tepals to gain access to the inner parts of the flowers to be able to drink the nectar (pers. obs). The flowers of this section are typically scented, unlike the other two sections of the genus (section Resnova and section Ledebouria), this species produces a spicy hyacinth-like scent. The scent is usually most noticeable during the warmer parts of the day.
There is no record of this species being utilized locally by humans.
Growing Ledebouria atropurpurea
This species is easy to maintain in cultivation.
The bulbs prefer a humic-rich, loam potting soil with some sand added to provide a well-drained mixture. They should be kept in morning sun to semi-shade and watered generously between rain showers in the summer growing season. During the dormant period in winter, the containers should be allowed to dry out, with only an occasional light surface watering to maintain some soil humidity. The emergence of the flowers in spring usually coincides with the emergence of the leaves, at which time full watering can recommence.
Propagation of this species is most successful from fresh seed sown in summer. Seed can be sown directly into pots or trays filled with the sifted growing mixture and pressed lightly. The seed can be covered with a thin, 3 mm layer of fine sand or the same sifted potting mix. Germination is quick and can occur between 3 to 4 weeks. Seedlings can be left in their natal containers for up to 3 years or until they become too congested and then should be planted out in small clusters or as individuals into pots. Seedlings are susceptible to mealy bug below soil level, which can be treated using a systemic insecticide. Damping off can occur during early establishment of the seedlings and precautions should be implemented in the form of a systemic fungicide.
- Brown, N.E. 1921. Drimiopsis atropurpurea. Kew Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information 1921: 299. Accessible via BHL at https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/42566#page/307/mode/1up.
- Hankey, A. 2003. Distinguishing between Ledebouria, Drimiopsis and Resnova. PlantLife (S. Afr.) 29: 38, 39.
- Hankey, A.J. 2019. Proposed English common names for African hyacinths (genus Ledebouria). Plantlife SA, Vol 47:7 https://plantlifesouthafrica.blogspot.com/
- Jessop, J. P. 1972. Studies in the bulbous Liliaceae in South Africa: 2. Drimiopsis and Resnova. Journal of South African Botany 38: 151–162.
- Manning, J.C. & Goldblatt, P. 2012. Hyacinthaceae. New combinations in Ledebouria. Bothalia 42 (1): 47–48.
- Manning, J.C., Goldblatt, P. & Fay, M.F. 2004. A revised generic synopsis of Hyacinthaceae in sub-Saharan Africa, based on molecular evidence, including new combinations and the new tribe Pseudoprospereae. Edinburgh Journal of Botany 60: 533–568.
- Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds) 2009. Red list of South African plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Van der Merwe, F.Z. 1945. Drimiopsis purpurea. Flowering Plants of Africa 25: t. 976.
- Wikipedia. Carl Friedrich von Ledebour. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Friedrich_von_Ledebour. Accessed 6 November 2018.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga
Soil type: Loam
Flowering season: Spring
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: Purple
Aspect: Morning Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy