The genus Ledebouria (Hyacinthaceae) in South Africa contains about
40 species, with only two confined to the winter rainfall region, three overlapping winter and summer rainfall regions, and the rest confined to the summer rainfall region. The unpublished revision done in 1993 by S. Venter is the most recent, but it is still not easy to use especially when the bulbs are not in flower. In October 2002 a vegetative key was published by A. Hankey (following Venter's revision) which is more user-friendly.
Ledebouria species are from a few cms to about 30 cms tall, usually having
interesting or decorative leaves which can make appealing pot subjects,
especially the dwarf species. Their flowers are arranged on a floppy spike mostly appearing in early spring before the grass is up. The individual flowers are not large or showy, but when examined closely they are exquisite with various colourings of mauve, purple and pink (sometimes almost
luminous) on the stamens and pedicels. They usually like to grow amongst rocks or in grassveld. They go dormant in the dry winters, and can tolerate a degree or two of frost. In the montane grassland species, they would get a bit of winter moisture from mist or the occasional light shower/snowfall.
The seeds of most of the summer rainfall species are usually ripe by early summer and ready to germinate immediately with no fuss. I have found a clone or single plants do not set seed. They seem to need cross-pollination to produce seeds. Does anyone know how easily they would hybridise?
Hankey divides the South African species into three Sections.
In Section A with leaves erect (majority on an axis closer to 90 than
45 degrees), there are eight species, including:
L. viscosa which has sand particles sticking to the leaves.
L. dolomitica and L. cooperi which may both sometimes have more floppy than upright leaves and are therefore also listed in Section C.
L. sandersonii can be very confusing with very variable leaves, and is listed in all three Sections!
In Section B with leaves adpressed to the soil surface, there are seven species, including:
L. galpinii, a delightful miniature with purplish-green textured leaves, and a beautiful little cluster of pink flowers in early spring.
L. ovatifolia, which occurs to tropical Africa and Sri Lanka.
L. ovalifolia (confusing with the previous name!!) which I would include in Section C because my plants have semi-upright leaves, definitlely not pressed to the ground. Could it be a hybrid? This one is from the winter rainfall region with a summer dormancy, or evergreen in my experience growing it here in Napier (the Overberg region of the Western Cape).
In Section C with leaves variously spreading but not erect or adpressed, there are 25 species, including:
L. hypoxidioides, so called because of the likeness to a Hypoxis with hairy (on both sides) leaves.
L. rupestris, a dwarf species with interestingly textured leaves.
L. socialis, a small species with the bulb exposed and very attractive silvery mottled leaves.
L. crispa, a dwarf species with a most attractive crisped leaf margin.
My single bulb has multiplied vegetatively into a decorative clump.
Alas, no seeds.
L. floribunda, a large species, usually with beautifully spotted leaves.
The traditional healers in the Eastern Cape use this bulb.
L. revoluta, a medium size species, with dull or dark spots on the leaves. It occurs from Port Elizabeth into eastern Africa and as far as India. There are many around Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape. Apparently the bulbs are
References and some further reading:
Craib, C. 1998. HERBERTIA Vol. 53: 49-53.
Craib, C. and A. Hankey. 1998. HERBERTIA Vol. 53: 54-58.
Craib, C. and L. Brown. 1998. HERBERTIA Vol. 53: 59-63.
Craib, C. and L. Brown. 1999. HERBERTIA Vol. 54: 43-50.
Hankey, A. 2002. Vegetative key to the Genus Ledebouria (Hyacinthaceae) in South Africa. PLANTLIFE No. 27: 16-19.
Manning, J. P. Goldblatt and D. Snijman.2002. THE COLOR ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CAPE BULBS: 272-274.
Venter, S. 1993. A revision of the genus Ledebouria (Hyacinthaceae) in South Africa. M.Sc. thesis, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.
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