Scadoxus membranaceus (Baker) Friis & Nordal
Common names: dwarf paintbrush, (Eng.); seeroogblom (Afr.); idumbi (Zul.)
This beautiful, compact growing, evergreen Scadoxus has spirally arranged leaves and striking red flowerheads that resemble a paint brush, surrounded by notable petal-like spathes, so that the whole resembles a large flower.
Scadoxus membranaceus is the smallest of the known Scadoxus species, entirely evergreen and low growing, its height varies from 150–400 mm, depending on the form. This species is notable for its large spathes that surround the flowers, giving the flowerhead the appearance of a large flower. It grows from a bulb where 3 to 4, thin layers of leaves will appear. The leaf stalk is 80–150 mm long and the leaf blade is lanceolate and 100–150 mm long . The leaves and inflorescence are completely different from the other species, in that they are not produced from the pseudostem, but arise directly from the rhizomatous rootstock.
It bears greenish to pale red flowers in spring, right through summer to mid-autumn (December to mid-April). The tepals (outer parts of the flower) are fused at the base, forming a tube as long as the length of the flower. The stamens are longer than the flowers and protrude from the tube. The flowers are about 38 mm long and are born in an umbel (arising from a common point), on a long stem that bears no leaves. The umbel is enclosed by bracts which are the same height as the flowers. The bracts are present throughout flowering and fruit set. The flowers bear bright red berries.
Scadoxus membranaceus is very similar to S. puniceus. Morphologically S. membranaceus lacks a pseudostem, whereas S.puniceus has one. Furthermore, and S. membranaceus has 4 bracts, whereas S. puniceus has more than 4.
According to the SANBI red list accessed on the 4th of October 2018, Scadoxus membranaceus is assessed as Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
Scadoxus membranaceus is indigenous to South Africa and found in coastal forests of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. It grows in partial to deep shade among rocks, along the river banks and sea-facing dunes. The size of the leaves and flowerhead is distinctive, depending on the distribution. The very miniature forms grow as high as 180 mm, whereas the quite robust ones, grow as high as 400 mm. It thrives in filtered sunlight and does not go dormant.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Scadoxus membranaceus was named by John Gilbert Baker in 1888, as Haemanthus membranaceus. He later described this species as a variety of Haemanthus puniceus (which is the current Scadoxus puniceus). The meaning of the generic epithet is unclear and never explained, but doxus means ‘glorious’ in Greek and sca means ‘obscure’. Membranaceus describes the membranous outer texture of the spathe bracts.
The genus Scadoxus, in the amaryllis family, consists of 9 species that are distributed throughout tropical Africa. Three of the 9 species are found in the summer-rainfall region of South Africa and 2 are found in the winter-rainfall Western Cape. For a long time this genus was regarded as a subgenus of Haemanthus. The separation of this genus from Haemanthus was done by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in 1838, when he moved Haemanthus multiflorus to Scadoxus multiflorus. The separation of the 2 genera was ignored by many, until 1976, when Scadoxus was again segregated from Haemanthus by Ib Friis and Inger Nordal. The difference between them is that species of Haemanthus form true bulbs and have sixteen chromosomes, whereas species of Scadoxus do not all form bulbs and have eighteen chromosomes. In Scadoxus the rootstock is basically an elongated rhizome with a bulbous part above it. The leaves have a distinct midrib, which is not present in Haemanthus, which remains dry or green during flowering. In some plants the sheath looks like a stem. Another distinction which was found was that Haemanthus species are all native to southern Africa, whereas most species of Scadoxus are found in tropical Africa.
This species attracts butterflies and honey bees, and it is, therefore, thought that it is pollinated by them.
Generally, the genus Scadoxus is known to have some species that are toxic, that contain poisonous alkaloids. These are believed to be very dangerous to animals, such as sheep and goats and can lead to death. Some of these species were used in parts of tropical African countries as fishing poisons. Scadoxus can be mass planted in the garden under deciduous and evergreen trees; also they can be used in pot displays.
Growing Scadoxus membranaceus
Scadoxus membranaceus is easy to cultivate, and can be propagated by seed and offsets. Sow the seeds from ripe berries that are bright red in colour. Remove the flesh off the seeds and wash with water. Sow seeds in a mixture of 1:1 ratio of fine bark and sand, in normal deep sowing trays. Carefully distribute the seeds on the surface of the medium, allowing a 2 cm space from each seed, to allow enough space to grow. Place the seeds under shade and keep them moist. Give them a good watering with a finely adjusted rose once a week. The seeds will germinate within 4 to 6 weeks, and apply liquid fertilizer to allow vegetative growth. The seedlings should be left for at least 2 years before potting up in spring. After a year of growing, they can be planted out in the garden or larger pots. The plants will flower in their fourth season. Growers should look out for pests, such as the amaryllis caterpillar in summer. The nocturnal moth lays its eggs on the underside of the leaves and caterpillars bore their way in the leaf tissue. These plants are also subjected to fungal infection like diseases such as red blotch.
- Duncan, G. 2001. Spectacular, rewarding Scadoxus. Veld and Flora 87(2): 60–63.
- Duncan, G., Jeppe, B. & Voigt, L. 2016. The Amaryllidaceae of southern Africa. Umdaus Press, Pretoria.
- Shire Bulbs: Scadoxus. Accessed 9/10/2018. http://shirebulbs.co.za/index.php/amaryllidaceae/scadoxus
- Wikipedia: Scadoxus membranaceus. Accessed 9/10/2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scadoxus_membranaceus.
- Wikipedia: Scadoxus, Accessed 9/10/2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scadoxus .
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer, Late Summer
Flower colour: Green, Red, Orange
Aspect: Shade, Morning Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy