Tulbaghia acutiloba Harv.
Common names: wild garlic (Eng.); wildeknoffel (Afr.); isihihi (Xho.); ishaladi lezinyoka (Zul.); motsuntsunyane, sefothafotha (sSo.)
A lovely, small and delicate bulbous perennial, with garlic-scented, edible leaves and sweetly fragrant flowers almost all year round.
Tulbaghia acutiloba is a small, clump-forming, bulbous perennial, 150–450 mm tall with soft, narrow, grass-like leaves, 50–450 mm long and 3–8 mm wide. Flowers are small, trumpet-shaped, about 8 × 4 mm, khaki-coloured, with green recurved tepals and a fleshy orange to reddish brown ring, in a 2–6-flowered umbel. They are sweetly scented especially in the evening, and flower throughout the year, but mainly in late winter to early summer (Aug. to Nov.) and can flower more than once a season. All parts of the plant smell of garlic when touched.
As referred to on the Red List of South African plants website, accessed on the 9th of January 2018, the conservation status of T. acutiloba is Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
Tulbaghia acutiloba grows in dry rocky grasslands, up to 1 800 m altitude, in the summer rainfall regions of southern Africa, occurring in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Gauteng, North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces of South Africa, and in Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Tulbaghia was originally named by Linnaeus after Ryk or Rijk Tulbagh, who was Governor of the Cape Colony, 1751–71. Born in Holland in 1699, he enlisted with the Dutch East India Company, sailed to South Africa in 1716, and died in Cape Town in 1771. He corresponded with Linnaeus over a long period, and sent him more than 200 plant specimens. This genus was first described from material sent by Tulbagh in 1769. The species name acutiloba means ‘sharply pointed lobes’ in Latin and probably refers to the pointed tepals.
Tulbaghia acutiloba flowers attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators and are likely to attract moths, because of their sweetly scented flowers. Plants become dormant during the cold, dry winter months, but in mild winters, the leaves may remain on the plant.
Tulbaghia acutiloba is used in traditional medicine to treat barenness, flu and bad breath. It is also used by Zulu people, in the same way that they use T. violacea, which they refer to as isihaqa, as an aphrodisiac. The garlic smell of the leaves is strong enough to repel pests and it is widely used in companion planting. The leaves are eaten as a culinary herb.
Plants are believed to discourage snakes, as snakes dislike the strong smell they produce in the leaves, and, therefore, are often planted around homes to repel snakes.
Growing Tulbaghia acutiloba
Tulbaghia acutiloba is an easy plant to propagate as it can be propagated straight from splitting clumps and through seeds. Leave a clump undisturbed for at least 5 years, or until they are flowering less, before lifting and dividing it. Replant immediately after lifting. Sow seed in spring or early summer. Seed germinates in 2–3 weeks and seed-grown plants will flower in their third year.
It must be planted in a well-drained loam soil enriched with humus, and receive water in summer, although being drought tolerant, it requires minimal watering once established. It is frost hardy, ideal for grassland and Highveld gardens with a dry winter rest period. Best planted in a sunny position among low-growing grasses or in a rockery. It also makes a showy pot plant.
- Archer, R.H. & Victor, J.E. 2005. Tulbaghia acutiloba Harv. National Assessment: Red List of South African plants version 2017.1. Accessed on 2019/01/29.
- Duncan, G. 2010. Grow bulbs. A guide to the cultivation of bulbs of South Africa and neighbouring countries. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Cape Town.
- Manning, J., Goldblatt, P. & Snijman, D. 2002. The color encyclopedia of Cape bulbs. Timber Press, Cambridge.
- Pacific bulb society (online), Tulbaghia. https://www.pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/Tulbaghia Accessed 23 Jan 2019
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers Kwazulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Vosa, C.G. 2000. A revised cytotaxonomy of the genus Tulbaghia, (Alliaceae). Caryologia 53: 2 (83–112). https://examine.com/supplements/tulbaghia-violacea/
- Wild Flower Nursery, Tulbaghia acutiloba. https://wildflowernursery.co.za/indigenous-plant-database/tulbaghia-acutiloba/ Accessed 23 January 2019.
KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden
and Alice Notten
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer, Sporadic/All year
Flower colour: Green, Orange
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy