Ledebouria linioseta (A.J.Hankey & P.D.Lebatha) J.C.Manning & Goldblatt
Common names: scented African hyacinth
A cryptic, dwarf, bulbous plant species; the plants hiding between huge boulders in the hills around a small town above the Mpumalanga escarpment, producing two broad leaves which bear hairs in rows.
Solitary or in loose clusters of a few bulbs growing together, 100–140 mm high. A deciduous, bulbous plant with broadly lanceolate leaves, 80–100 mm long and 30–80 mm wide, green above with or without spots and are usually purple-brown to greenish, with irregular spots or blotches below; leaves are adorned with unbroken longitudinal rows of hairs which extend from the base of the clasping leaf bases, to the tips of the upper and lower leaf surfaces.
One or 2 inflorescences are produced in spring and early summer (October to December) between the leaves, bearing numerous small, inconspicuous, green to purple-brown flowers atop a dark greenish purple stalk, which is also adorned with longitudinal rows of hairs. The florets (small flowers) are comprised of 6, hooded, incurved tepals (petals) which only open slightly when flowering and are strongly hyacinth-scented, especially during the heat of the day, when they are visited by small solitary bees and other flying insects.
Ledebouria linioseta is listed as Vulnerable (VU) in the Red List of South African plants because of its narrow distribution range and threat of mining in the general area where it occurs.
Distribution and habitat
Ledebouria linioseta is recorded only from the Sekhukuniland area near the small town of Roosenekal in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa, where it occurs amongst large boulders in the shade of trees and low shrubs.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The species was first discovered by the author in 1999 while conducting botanical field work in the area. It was originally placed in the genus Drimiopsis when it was named in 2008 by Hankey & Lebatha; the species was shifted to the genus Ledebouria by Manning (2012) in favour of a one genus approach to the taxonomy of the group. Manning also created 3 sections within Ledebouria (sections: Ledebouria, Resnova and Drimiopsis). This species belongs in the section: Drimiopsis. The genus is named in honour of the German-Estonian botanist, Professor Carl Friedrich von Ledebour (1785–1851). The specific name linioseta is given for the longitudinal rows of short, erect hairs which adorn most of the above-ground parts of the plant. South Africa has 58 species of Ledebouria, with several more species occurring across southern, western, eastern and northeastern Africa, and into India.
By the untrained eye in the field, Ledebouria linioseta can be confused with other Ledebouria species, especially those in the section Drimiopsis, such as L. burkei or L. atropurpurea, however, the presence of hairs in longitudinal rows is diagnostic and is the only member of the section which presents this unique character.
There is very little documented information specifically on the ecology of this Ledebouria species; porcupines are known to dig out and eat the bulbs of several species of Ledebouria and large ungulates have been observed to browse the leaves.
The flowers are shy and only open slightly when in full flower, although they are highly scented with a sweet, spicy, hyacinth-like scent which attracts a variety of insects. Small solitary bees have been observed favouring members of section Drimiopsis, especially around midday when the scent is at its strongest, and have been seen to physically open the tepals with the forelimbs to gain access to the inner parts of the flowers. The inflorescences are mostly erect to spreading at first, becoming more flaccid (floppy) with age; this may have something to do with optimizing visibility of the flowers to attract pollinators. The seed is small, drop-shaped and shiny black with a wrinkled surface. S. Venter (1993) suggests that Ledebouria seeds may be distributed by water wash, which is likely after heavy thunderstorms, which are frequent across the area where this species occurs.
The genus Ledebouria has been cited as having been used medicinally for various 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 ate the bulbs of certain species, including L. revoluta and L. apertiflora. However, these may have been cooked or prepared in some manner to destroy the toxins, which is not specifically documented. Despite the fact that some large ungulates do browse the leaves, the entire genus should be regarded as being poisonous as a precaution.
Growing Ledebouria linioseta
The scented African hyacinth is very easily cultivated in gardens, although is better suited to containers because of its small size. They are best cultivated in terracotta pots in full sun to semi-shade, in a warm climate. The bulbs should be planted in humus-rich loam or a well-drained, organic potting medium, with sifted kraal (cattle) manure or well-aged compost added. Watering should be done regularly during the summer growing season. The pots should be dried out during the dry winter rest period. They prefer a warm growing season, but can withstand very cold temperatures in winter, provided the soil is kept completely dry and the plants are dormant. 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). Keeping the plants in strong sunlight, results in the darkest and most bold leaf markings, which quickly fade in the shade.
Propagation from seed is the best method of producing new plants. Seed must be sown fresh (cannot be stored) in spring or summer, in deep seed trays filled with the sifted potting mixture detailed above. The seed can be sown on a firmly tamped surface and lightly covered with the same mixture, approximately 2–4 mm deep. The seed 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 be pricked out into community pots or individual containers after their first year. Repotting should be done shortly before the onset of warmer temperatures. Flowering size bulbs can be attained after 2 to 3 years.
- Hankey, A.J. 2019. Proposed English common names for African hyacinths (genus Ledebouria). Plantlife SA, Vol 47:7 https://plantlifesouthafrica.blogspot.com/
- Hankey, A.J., Buys, M.H. & Lebatha, P.D. 2008. Hyacinthaceae: Drimiopsis linioseta, a new species from the Sekhukhuniland centre of endemism, South Africa. Bothalia 38,1.
- Hankey, A.J. & Von Staden, L. 2016. Ledebouria linioseta (A.J.Hankey & P.D.Lebatha) J.C.Manning & Goldblatt. National Assessment: Red List of South African plants version 2017.1. Accessed on 2020/04/15.
- Manning, J.C. 2012. Hyacinthaceae: new combinations in Ledebouria. Bothalia 42,1: 47, 48.
- Venter, S. 1993. A revision of the genus Ledebouria Roth (Hyacinthaceae) in South Africa. Unpublished M.Sc. thesis, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.
- 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: Mpumalanga
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer
Flower colour: Brown, Green, Purple
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy