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Plant Highlight: Cyrtanthus obliquus

July 2018

South Africa is home to many species in the Amaryllis Family (Amaryllidaceae), including over 50 species in the genus Cyrtanthus. This genus occurs in both winter-rainfall and summer-rainfall areas, with flowers which tend to be funnel-shaped to tubular, sometimes with flared-out tips. A few species stand out in terms of their larger-than-usual flowers, and one of these is Cyrtanthus obliquus, which is fairly widespread in areas of coastal grasslands in the southeast part of the country.

Cyrtanthus obliquus
has teardrop-shaped bulbs to 4 inches in diameter (10 cm), and it typically produces a few offsets to form a small clump, though plants may sometimes be solitary. The top third of the bulb is normally visible above ground level. Each bulb has up to a dozen strap-shaped green or gray-green distichous leaves (that is, all arranged in one plane) up to 20 inches long (50 cm). Plants from drier areas have shorter leaves which are often spirally twisted, while those from areas with more rainfall have longer leaves which are straight or only slightly twisted.

The blooming time for Cyrtanthus obliquus is in spring and summer, with the flower stalk rising to a height of about 2 feet (.6 m). Atop the stalk is a cluster of up to a dozen nodding tubular flowers, each about 2¾ inches long (7 cm). The flower color is mostly red-orange, with varying amounts of green at the tips, and some yellow as well. The flowers widen at the mouth, but the tips do not curl outward as with some other species.

The oval seed capsules contain flat black winged seeds. Plants grow readily from seed, but this species takes 8 years or more to reach flowering size. C. obliquus does well as a garden plant if given good drainage, plenty of sun, and occasional water during the summer months.