Ledebouria marginata (Baker) Jessop
Common names: tough-leaved African hyacinth
An attractive Ledebouria with erect, fibrous leaves and large bulb, often locally common with regional variations; it occurs over a wide area of the eastern summer rainfall parts of South Africa.
Solitary, deciduous bulbous plant; bulbs (occasionally small) usually medium to large, pear-shaped to spherical and covered with numerous layers of fibrous outer skins (dead bulb scales). Leaves narrowly to broadly triangular and very fibrous, which make them difficult to tear*.
Several regional forms have various leaf sizes and colours ranging from bluish green to bright green, with or without pronounced dark purple blotches, bands, spots and markings.
The flowers are borne mainly in spring on several unbranched spikes, each bearing many, small, solitary flowers arranged along the central peduncle (main stalk), each on a short pedicel (flower stalk) in a ‘bottle-brush’-like fashion. The inflorescence hangs out of the partially emerged leaves in a decumbent (leaning outwards) manner. The small, green to dark pink flowers, each with strongly recurved tepals (petals), usually have maroon filaments (anther stalks). Flowering takes place in spring and early summer (August to November), although flowers can be found until February. Small drop-shaped seeds are produced following the flowers, in leathery, green capsules, which split open to reveal the shiny, black and wrinkled seeds.
This species is not easily confused with any other species of Ledebouria in the region, due to the erect and highly fibrous leaves, which are very difficult to tear*. Most populations have a glaucous (bluish green) appearance because of a fine powdery bloom which covers the surface of the leaves. Some populations have leaves with a spiral twist. Markings on the leaves vary from faint to prominent, dark purple spots and blotches, to completely immaculate (unspotted). Some individuals have a pronounced membranous leaf margin which is minutely undulating, especially towards the base. Regionally populations vary in size from dwarf plants of less than 100 mm high, up to giant forms of 350 mm high, however, most plants more commonly reach between 150–250 mm high from ground level to the tip of the leaves.
(*this is a useful field character to distinguish the species)
According to the Red List of South African plants, Ledebouria marginata is assessed as 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
The tough-leaved African hyacinth is widespread across the eastern parts of South Africa, in the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, North West, Free State, Kwa-Zulu Natal and Eastern Cape Provinces. The species is usually abundant in many of the areas where it occurs, in full sun, mostly in short grassland and savanna.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
This species was first named as Scilla marginata by J.G. Baker in 1904. It was subsequently transferred to the genus Ledebouria in 1970, by J.P. Jessop during his taxonomic work on the family. The name Ledebouria is named in honour of the German-Estonian botanist, Professor Carl Friedrich von Ledebour (1785–1851). The specific name marginata, is Latin and means ‘having or possessing a margin’, presumably in reference to the leaf margin which is often pronounced and membranous, although it is not known exactly what was originally intended by Baker when he applied that name.
South Africa has 39 species of Ledebouria. The genus is distributed across Africa, India and Madagascar, with the centre of species diversity in the eastern parts of southern Africa.
There is little documented information about the specific ecology of this species. The tough and very fibrous leaves are likely to be an adaptation to reduce the incidence of being eaten by herbivores; however, the leaves do still get eaten by large animals despite their fibrous nature.
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) 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, shiny black and roundish. S. Venter (1993) suggested that seeds of Ledebouria may be distributed by waterwash, which is likely after heavy thunderstorms, which are frequent across the areas where the species occurs.
Species in the genus Ledebouria have 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 ate the bulbs of certain species (L. apertiflora and L. revoluta). However these may have been cooked or prepared in some manner to destroy the toxins, which is not specifically documented.
Growing Ledebouria marginata
Ledebouria marginata has many regional forms. Selection of the most attractive forms will be necessary for cultivation purposes. The species is easily cultivated both in the garden and 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 growing season, but can withstand very cold temperatures in winter. 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 the best method of producing new plants. Seed must be sown fresh 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 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 or more, before being planted out at the beginning of their second or third growing season. Flowering size bulbs can be attained after 3 to 5 years.
- Dictionary of botanical epithets. http://www.winternet.com/~chuckg/dictionary.html, accessed 22 June 2016.
- Hankey, A. 2011. Ledebouria Roth. PlantZAfrica. Internet 5 pp. http://pza.sanbi.org/ledebouria-genus, accessed 22 June 2016.
- Jessop, J.P. 1970. Studies in the bulbous Liliaceae in South Africa: 1. Scilla, Schizocarpus and Ledebouria. Journal of South African Botany 36(4): 233–266.
- Venter, S. 2008. Synopsis of the genus Ledebouria Roth (Hyacinthaceae) in South Africa. Herbertia 62: page range?.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
Soil type: Clay, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer
Flower colour: Green, Pink
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy