Albuca: the under appreciated relative of Ornithogalum

When most people see for the first time a flowering Albuca plant, they think its is an Ornithogalum. Well, we can't blame them. The species are closely related and the flowers look much the same. The drooping flowers are born in an umbel and mostly white. The tepals of most species of Albuca and Ornithogalum have a dark, mostly green, on the outside. Despite the similarities Albuca is lesser known than Ornithogalum.

The genus Albuca (Hyacinthaceae) is native to Arabia and Africa, but is seen predominately in South Africa. The genus includes evergreens, winter-growers (A. canadensis and A. spiralis) as well as summer-growers (A. shawii and A. nelsonii). Most species which are in cultivation are native to South Africa.

The best known species are Albuca nelsonii and A. canadensis. The first mentioned species is native to the Southafrican province Kwazulu-Natal. A. nelsonii produces leaves up to 1.5 metres long. The flowers appear after the leaves have grown out in May-June. The flowers are white with a red stripe on the outside of the six tepals. Albuca canadensis produces up to 90 cm long, cylindrical leaves. The flowers have a yellowish-white colour with a greenish overlay. The flowering period is February-April. This species is indigenous to the Southafrican province Western Cape.

One of my personal favourites is Albuca shawii. This is because of several reasons. First, the leaves and the flower stem are covered with small haires. When you touch these hairs you smell a slightly sweet scent. Furthermore the flowers are beautifully coloured: dark yellow with a green stripe on the outside of the tepals. The outer tepals are spread outwards, while the inner ones are enclosing the stamens. One individual plant can produce more than one flowerstem during one growing season. The cylindrical, up to 15 cm long leaves are dark-green coloured. At the end of the growing period the watergift is stopped. To stimulate the plant to go dormant I cut the leaves and the flowerstems of the plant. If you don't do this the plant doesn't go dormant. Albuca shawii can easily be propagated by seed.