Our Plants

March 2005 Plant Highlight: Bulbinella nutans
Image of Bulbinella nutans   Image of B. nutans flower

In late February and March, The Ruth Bancroft Garden is enlivened by the bright yellow flowers of our resident Bulbinella. Plants in this genus have short rhizomatous underground stems surmounted by a tuft of long, narrow, bright-green leaves. The stem and leaf-bases are usually sheathed in the fibrous remains of the old leaves. The genus has an interesting distribution, with 17 species occurring in the western part of South Africa and 6 in New Zealand. The leaves are deciduous, appearing each year at the start of the growing season and withering away during the resting period. These plants are members of the Asphodelaceae, which includes other genera such as Bulbine and Kniphofia (red-hot pokers). In the past, plants in this family were included in the lily family.

Our plants have been going under the name Bulbinella floribunda, a name listed in botanical reference works such as Hortus. However, in 1999 Pauline Perry published the book Bulbinella in South Africa, in which she noted uncertainties surrounding this name, which goes back to the late 1700’s. As was often the case in those days, the description is not very exact, and it is therefore difficult to be certain which plants the name should apply to. Consequently she discards the name. Going by her key and illustrations, our plants seem to fall under B. nutans. This species is native to the southwestern corner of South Africa, the region where Cape Town is located. The climate in this area is similar to ours, with wet winters and dry summers, and the plants have thrived in the garden, multiplying over the years. The leaves come up after the onset of the rains in the autumn months, and persist through the winter. Towards the end of the winter, in February and March, the racemes of yellow flowers emerge. These are up to about 3 feet or so in height (1 meter). Their burst of brilliant yellow is a welcome presence, but when using them in the garden it must be remembered that they disappear during the summer.

Text and Photos by Brian Kemble

Mission Statement
The mission of the Ruth Bancroft Garden, Inc. is to preserve this exceptional example of garden design and to continue to develop its collection of water-conserving plants for the education and enjoyment of the public.
Centennial Celebration
We are celebrating Garden Founder Ruth Bancroft's 100th year throughout 2009. If you would like to get involved in this historic milestone, you can help by contributing to the Centennial Fund or by attending on of our many special events this year.
Grant Funders
The Ruth Bancroft Garden would like to recognize the Quest Foundation for funding our Education Coordinator’s position, and the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust for funding our Volunteer Coordinator’s position, as well as for their generous support over the years.
The Ruth Bancroft Garden GardenConservancy