Autumn Flowers and the new Amaryllidaceae Book

We have reached that time of year again at the end of summer as the nights draw in and the weather becomes cooler. As the hope of autumn and winter rains sit on the horizon, it is time to look out for our Renosterveld autumn flowers, particularly those in the Amaryllidaceae family.

For more information about the Amaryllidaceae family, there is no better place to look than Graham Duncan, Barbara Heppe and Leigh Voigt’s stunning new book on the Amaryllidaceae of Southern Africa. This amazing publication has been no less than 45 years in the making and well worth the wait. Barbara Heppe started the gargantuan task of painting botanical illustrations of all members of the Amaryllidaceae family in July 1971 and she painted more than 200 species from this huge and diverse family during her lifetime. After Barbara Heppe passed away in 1999 her daughter Leigh Voigt took up the task of painting botanical illustrations of all the subsequently described species. These stunning illustrations are paired with a beautiful, informative and articulate text written by Graham Duncan, SANBI botanist, horticulturalist and world renowned geophyte expert. This volume covers everything from pollination biology to cultivation in different parts of the world and will make a great contribution to the Southern African flora lover’s library.

Amaryllis belladonna
Amaryllis belladonna

Meanwhile out in the Overberg’s Renosterveld some stunning members of this incredibly diverse plant family can be seen. First up is the Amaryllis belladonna, more commonly known as the March lily or ‘Naked Lady’. It is distributed from the Cape Peninsula eastwards to Nature’s Valley on the Garden Route and grows in a variety of different habitats, sometimes flowering en masse after fire. The genus Amaryllis was first described in Linnaeus’s Species Plantarum in 1753. Amaryllis belladonna is pollinated during the day by carpenter bees and becomes more strongly scented at night where it attracts the moth Cucullia extricata.

Haemanthus sanguineus. Photo credit: Cameron Macmaster

Now is also the time to spot Haemanthus sanguineus or ‘April Fool’ or ‘Brandlelie’ as its paint brush like flower heads emerge in the veld. The species epithet ‘sanguineus’ means ‘blood’ in reference to the colour of the flowers. This species is found growing on sandy or heavy clay soils in openings in low bushy scrub or on rocky mountain slopes from Nardouwsberg in the Cederberg south to the Cape Peninsula and east to just beyond Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.

Brunsvigia orientalis
Brunsvigia orientalis

One of the largest and spectacular members of the Amaryllidaceae family to be seen in the Overberg’s Renosterveld at this time of year is members of the genus Brunsvigia, known as the Chandelier lily. The most commonly seen is the bright red Brunsvigia orientalis. The genus name Brunsvigia was named in tribute to German Duke Karl Willhelm Ferdinand of Braunsschweig-Wolfenbuttel.  Brunsvigia orientalis was discovered in the 17th Century and was thought at the time to have originated from India. Although the record has now been put straight on its South African origins, the name has stuck. This species is distributed throughout the winter rainfall zone from Vanrhynsdorp south to the Cape Peninsula and eastwards to Cape St Francis.

Crossyne guttata
Crossyne guttata

Equally spectacular and resembling a large purple botanical firework is Crossyne guttata. When in leaf they can be easily recognised by their large, flat and bristle margined leaves. They flower from February to April. This species was first illustrated in 1678 in Jakob Breyne’s Exoticarum Plantarum. It is endemic to the Western Cape but relatively common throughout its range growing on shale and granite derived soils.

Boophone disticha
Boophone disticha

One of the botanical gems of Overberg Renosterveld at this time of year is Boophone disticha. The name Boophone means ‘Ox killer’ in reference to the toxicity of the leaves to livestock. They are known for their distinctive fan like leaves with wavy margins. This species can be found from the Southern Cape northwards to south Sudan. Despite its toxicity the bulb is highly prized for various medicinal uses, including stomach pain, headaches and to relieve anxiety. However, overdose can cause hallucinations and be fatal.

Nerine sarniensis
Nerine sarniensis

The stunning red Nerine sarniensis is more commonly known as the Guernsey Lily. The species epithet ‘sarniensis’ means ‘from Sarnia’, the Roman name of the Channel Island of Guernsey. It flowers from February to May, occurring from Clanwilliam in the Cederberg southwards to the Cape Peninsula and eastwards to Caledon in the Overberg where it can be found growing in Western Rûens Shale Renosterveld. This species was first recorded at Table Bay by Francis Masson either in 1774 or his second visit in 1786. Nerine sarniensis was first described by Linnaeus in 1753.

Nerine humilis
Nerine humilis

At our Haarwegskloof Reserve following a highly successful control burn last autumn Nerine humilis have emerged en masse at the site. This beautiful and delicate looking species flowers from March to June in a variety of habitats from shale flats to rocky sandstone slopes. There are a variety of different forms, including one known from one locality in Eastern Rûens Shale Renosterveld that has an unusually long stigma. Sadly it is thought that the pollinator of this form is now extinct in this area and so it can only propagate vegetatively. The different forms of Nerine humilis are pollinated by long tongued flies.

So now is a wonderful time to get out into the Overberg’s Renosterveld to see some of these beauties in flower. Why not come and visit Haarwegskloof and our gorgeous Renosterveld Reserve to see some of them and learn more about this fascinating and Critically Endangered ecosystem?