Ledebouria parvifolia S.Venter
Common names: elusive African hyacinth
A very rare and elusive species seldom seen in its natural habitat due to its small size and remote location in the Mpumalanga Drakensberg, Mpumalanga, South Africa. This dwarf, enigmatic species was only named in 1998. It makes a handsome pot subject and is extremely easy to grow and propagate.
Dwarf bulbous plant, densely gregarious by sobolifery (producing bulblets at the base of the mother bulb), with small bulbs, 25 × 25 mm, producing 3–5, deciduous, finely hairy leaves, 15–50 mm long and about 15–20 mm wide.
On close inspection the upper surfaces of the leaves and peduncles (main flower stalk) are adorned with dense, very fine, longitudinal rows of minute glassy hairs, which makes this Ledebouria quite unique.
The leaves are mostly mid- to light-green, unspotted or with irregular purple coloured spots and blotches, the underside is often completely red or green or variously suffused with red, especially towards the base.
The short, unbranched inflorescence (flower spike) is produced in early spring (August to September in South Africa). It remains mostly erect, but can become decumbent towards the end of the flowering season.
The small, individual florets (small flowers) are each attached to the peduncle (main flower stalk) by a lilac-coloured pedicel (flower stalk), which is curved downward when in bud, but becomes straighter and elongates when the flower opens, giving the inflorescence a conical shape. The recurved tepals (petals) of the individual florets (small flowers), are green at the apex and lilac basally. Purple to violet filaments (anther stalks) extend from the mouth of the florets and bear pale yellow anthers atop, which release the pollen. After flowering, the tiny, brown seed is produced in small, green capsules, which split open to release the glossy seeds.
Ledebouria parvifolia is a very rare, range-restricted species, known only from one single location. It is listed in the Red List of South African plants as Data Deficient (DDD), due to a lack of information about the extent and threats to the population.
Distribution and habitat
This species is rare and known only from one single location in the vicinity of Lisbon Falls, near Graskop in Mpumalanga. The elusive African hyacinth occurs on dark brown, clay loam soils, overlaying dolomite rock. The species is a component of sparsely wooded grassland on hill slopes.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Ledebouria parvifolia was first discovered by Dr Stephanus Venter during his revision of the genus. The species was first described in Dr Venter’s M.Sc. thesis (UKZN), in 1993, but only validly published by the same author in 1998.
The genus Ledebouria is named in honour of the German-Estonian botanist, Professor Carl Friedrich von Ledebour (1785–1851). The species name parvifolia, is made of two parts; parvi- meaning ‘small’ in Latin, and -folia which means ‘foliage’ (leaves) in Latin; thus meaning ‘small-leaved’.
South Africa has 42 Ledebouria species. The genus is distributed across Africa and India, with the centre of species diversity in the eastern parts of southern Africa.
This species is most is most likely to be confused with Ledebouria sandersonii or L. cooperii, due to the size of the plants, as well as the distribution in the Mpumalanga highlands. However, neither of these two species have hairy leaves.
Very little is known about the ecology of Ledebouria parvifolia, since it has not been extensively studied in its natural habitat. The brightly coloured flowers which are open and cup-shaped, suggests that they are opportunistically pollinated by most visiting insects. The seed is very small, Venter (1993) suggests that Ledebouria seeds are distributed by water wash.
No specific references exist in the literature to this species being used by people. The genus Ledebouria as a whole has been used medicinally in Africa 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 other species (L. apertiflora and L. revoluta).
Growing Ledebouria parvifolia
Ledebouria parvifolia is easy to maintain in cultivation.Because of its small size, it is most suited to being grown in containers, and prefers a peaty, loam soil. An ideal potting mixture would include 1 part old, well-rotted compost or sifted cattle manure and 1 part clay loam. The potting medium should provide an acidic soil environment. Watering should be frequent during the summer months (preferably using rainwater if available). The plants prefer a cool summer climate with good air circulation and the soil should be kept moist throughout the growing season. Growing the plants in full sun, ensures a compact growth habit. During the dry winter dormancy period, the pots should be moved out of the rain and placed in a dry, cool area with adequate air movement. Watering can commence towards the end of winter at the onset of warmer weather (August–September in South Africa).
Propagation from seed is the best method of producing more plants; the seed must be sown fresh. Sow seeds immediately (do not store them) in spring or summer, in shallow seed trays filled with the sifted potting mixture mentioned above. Sow seed on a firmly tamped surface and lightly cover with the same mixture approximately 1 mm deep. The trays should be kept in a bright position out of direct sunlight and kept damp until germination has commenced. Seedlings can remain in the seedling tray or planted out as soon as they are large enough to handle. Flowering size bulbs can be attained after 1 to 2 years from germination.
- Dictionary of botanical epithets. http://www.winternet.com/~chuckg/dictionary.html
- Hankey, A. 2011. Ledebouria Roth. PlantZAfrica. Internet 5 pp. http://pza.sanbi.org/ledebouria-genus
- Victor, J.E. & Hankey, A.J. 2006. Ledebouria parvifolia S.Venter. National Assessment: Red List of South African plants version 2015.1. Accessed on 2017/01/08
- Venter, S. 1993. A revision of the genus Ledebouria Roth (Hyacinthaceae) in South Africa. Unpublished M.Sc. thesis, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.
- Venter, S. 2008. Synopsis of the genus Ledebouria Roth (Hyacinthaceae) in South Africa. Herbertia 62
- Venter, S. & Edwards, T.J. 1998. A revision of Ledebouria (Hyacinthaceae) in South Africa. 2. Two new species, L. crispa and L. parvifolia, and L. macowanii re-instated. Bothalia 28(2): 179–182.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: Mpumalanga
Soil type: Clay, Loam
Flowering season: Spring
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: Green, Mauve/Lilac
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy