Ledebouria woodii (Baker) J.C.Manning & Goldblatt
Common names: Wood’s African hyacinth (Eng.)
Bulbous plant with usually unspotted leaves and green to pale green, whitish, strongly hyacinth-scented flowers, in spring and summer.
Semi-evergreen or deciduous bulbous plants 150–300 mm high, usually occurring as solitary individuals or as clusters of a few to numerous plants in small groups. Each plant usually produces 2 leaves, broadly elliptic, erect to spreading up to 150–200 mm long including a pseudopetiolate (petiole-like) leaf base. The pseudopetiole is green and may be as long as the lamina portion of the entire leaf. The leaves are green, unspotted, grooved along the veins above and green underneath.
A usually single, slender, erect flower spike, up to 300 mm high, is produced in early spring and summer (August to November). The flower spike bears numerous, small, greenish-white buds, terminally. The flowers, when mature, turn darker green than the buds but are still usually quite pale- to mid-green. The individual florets (small flowers) barely open when mature, and usually only the outer three tepals (petals) spread slightly to expose a small pore when the flower is open; the inner three tepals (petals) remain connate (touching) and conceal the inner parts of the flower. After the flowers are pollinated, the green seed capsules develop quickly and split open within a few weeks to release the shiny, blackish, glossy and wrinkled seeds.
This species is widespread and not considered to be under threat in its natural habitat. It is listed as Least Concern (LC) on the Red List of South African Plants.
Distribution and habitat
According to the Red List of South African Plants, Wood’s African hyacinth is distributed in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces in South Africa as well as in the neighbouring states of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
This species was first collected in 1881 by botanist John Medley Wood, and described in 1897, by J.G. Baker (1834–1920) from Kew Herbarium in the United Kingdom. The species was originally described as Drimiopsis woodii. In 1972 J.P. Jessop combined the species under his broader concept of Drimiopsis burkei (syn. Ledebouria burkei) in his revision of the genus. In 1997 German botanist couple, U. & D. Muller Dӧblies resurrected D. woodii as a stand-alone species, and in 2004 the genus Drimiopsis was combined into Ledebouria by the South African botanist Prof. John Manning, who also created two sections (2012) in Ledebouria to accommodate the closely allied groups (section Drimiopsis and section Resnova) that were formerly recognised as separate genera. The species is named after John Medley Wood (1827–1915), then Director of the Natal Herbarium in Durban.
The genus Ledebouria is named in honour of the German-Estonian botanist, Professor Carl Friedrich von Ledebour (1785–1851). South Africa has 61 species of Ledebouria, with several more species occurring across southern, western, eastern and northeast Africa and into India. The genus Ledebouria is a member of the Hyacinth Family and is well represented especially across eastern summer rainfall parts of South Africa.
Ledebouria woodii is most closely related to L. petiolata (syn. Drimiopsis maculata) from which it differs by the leaf base being decurrent on the pseduopetiole as opposed to hastate in the latter (lobes running down the pseudopetiole vs lobes triangular and spreading sharply away from the pseudopetiole). It further differs in the smaller flowers and leaves which are usually unspotted.
This species possesses typical Drimiopsis-type flowers in which the outer tepals (petals) only open slightly and do not become reflexed, while the inner tepals remain closed even when the flowers are mature. This distinction can be used to distinguish the section Drimiopsis from the other two sections Ledebouria and Resnova.
As is the case with most ledebourias, there is no documented information on the specific ecology of L. woodii. 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. Observations have been made of various pollinators including small solitary bees, honey bees as well as small flies and wasps visiting the flowers when they are open. The visiting pollinators need to physically open the inner three tepals (petals) in order to gain access to the center of the flower where the pollen and nectar is located. The flowers are strongly hyacinth scented especially in the warmer parts of the day.
There are no known or recorded uses specifically of the Wood’s African hyacinth. The genus Ledebouria generally 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 porcupines and some large ungulates have been recorded as eating the bulbs and leaves respectively, the entire genus should be regarded as being poisonous as a precaution.
Growing Ledebouria woodii
Wood’s African hyacinth is easily cultivated, they are best maintained in containers or in the garden amongst rocks or smaller plants that will not overcrowd them, in full sun to semi-shade, in a warm, summer-rainfall climate.
In containers the bulbs can be planted in humus-rich, loam soil or a well-drained potting medium, rich in organic material, with some sifted, well-aged kraal (cattle) manure or mature compost added. Watering should be limited to the warm summer growing season. Pots should be allowed to be completely dry during the winter rest period. Plants can withstand cold temperatures in winter, providing the soil is kept completely dry and the bulbs are dormant. In a tropical coastal climate the plants may remain evergreen if sufficient moisture is provided.
In cooler climates the pots should be moved out of the rain during the cold dormant winter season, and kept in a dry position with good air movement. Summer growth is initiated in spring (September to October) by the onset of warmer temperatures or light rain. Emergence of the flowers often precedes the leaves in this species, however, under moister conditions the flowers may emerge simultaneously with the leaves. Watering can commence as soon as the flowers or leaves break through the soil surface.
In cultivation, adult plants can become afflicted with scale insect and mealy bug (including on the roots) especially if the cultural conditions are not ideal. Both of these maladies can be managed with contact or systemic insecticides. Ants will often bring and spread such infestations and as such it is best to manage ant populations in the area where the plants are grown.
Ledebouria woodii is best propagated from fresh seed (seed cannot be stored for longer than 1 year). Seed should be sown in spring or summer. Sow seed in pots or trays, on a finely sifted surface of the same growing medium mentioned above. Cover with a fine layer of approx. 2–3 mm of the sifted medium. Water weekly and keep in a warm and protected position out of direct sunlight. Seeds usually germinate within 2–3 weeks, after which watering should be reduced depending on rainfall. Bulblets can be allowed to remain in their natal container for the first year, after which they can be planted out into individual or community pots. Flowering can begin at 2 to 3 years from seed.
- Hankey, A.J. 2019. Proposed English common names for African hyacinths (genus Ledebouria). Plantlife SA, Vol 47:7 https://plantlifesouthafrica.blogspot.com/
- Jessop, J. P. 1972. Studies in the bulbous Liliaceae in South Africa: 2. Drimiopsis and Resnova. Journal of South African Botany 38: 151–162.
- Müller-Doblies, U. & Müller-Doblies, D. 1997. A partial revision of the tribe Massonieae (Hyacinthaceae). Feddes Repertorium 108 (1–-2): 49–96.
- Manning, J.C., Goldblatt, P. & Fay, M.F. 2004. A revised generic synopsis of Hyacinthaceae in sub-Saharan Africa, based on molecular evidence, including new combinations and the new tribe Pseudoprospereae. Edinburgh Journal of Botany 60: 533–568.
- Von Staden, L. 2016. Ledebouria woodii (Baker) J.C.Manning & Goldblatt. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2020.1. Accessed on 2022/07/11.
- 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: KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
Soil type: Loam
Flowering season: Spring
Flower colour: Green, White
Aspect: Full Sun, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy