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Plant Highlight: Brunsvigia josephinae

September 2005

Brunsvigias are bulbs belonging to the amaryllis family, and they come from southern Africa. Some of the species come from eastern areas with summer rainfall, but Brunsvigia josephinae is one of the western ones adapted to winter rain. Like its relative the Resurrection Lily (Amaryllis belladonna), B. josephinae leafs out in autumn and holds its leaves throughout the winter before going dormant in spring. After a dry and leafless period of summer rest, the flowers emerge before the new leaves are produced.

Bulbs of Brunsvigia josephinae are partly exposed, rather than being buried in the soil. They are very large, and take many years to attain flowering size. When the red flowers emerge, they radiate out at the ends of long stems from atop a stout stalk. After the flowers give way to seed capsules, the stalk detaches and the beach ball-sized inflorescence is carried along by the wind, scattering seed as it goes.

Many people do not associate bulbs with dry growing conditions, and find it surprising to find them planted in a succulent garden. However, a bulb is an ideal adaptation for enduring dry spells, and along with many other kinds of bulbs brunsvigias are found in arid areas of southern Africa growing alongside succulents.

Our bulb at the Ruth Bancroft Garden flowered for the first time in August 2004, delighting visitors with its impressive globe of flowers. We are very pleased that it has seen fit to put on a repeat performance this year.