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Autumn Colours: A closer look at Brunsvigias

FEB 29, 2020




The long hot and dry summers are the toughest time of year in the Cape. There is little rainfall and temperatures can be high. Many bulbous Cape plants adapt to this time of year by entering a time of dormancy, tucked safely underground and sleeping until the next rain comes during early autumn.

The genus of plants that heralds the coming of autumn most strongly in the Cape is Brunsvigia, known for their spectacular blooms. The first rains of autumn trigger these vast bulbs to break their dormancy, producing huge blooms emerging from the dry earth when little else is in flower. Here on the BotSoc Blog we take a closer look at some members of the genus that grow in South Africa’s winter rainfall zone.

Brunsvigia striata

Above: Brunsvigia striata.


Also known as the kleinmaartblom or seeroogblom in Afrikaans, Brunsvigia striata is one of the more diminutive members of the genus. It is widespread across the Cape Floristic Region, growing from the Bokkeveld Mountains southeast to Cape Infanta at the mouth of the Breede River in the Overberg and eastwards to Steytlerville in the Eastern Cape. Brunsvigia striata grows on rocky ground on mountain slopes, on dolerite derived and humus rich soils. Flowering takes place from late February to April, peaking during March.

Brunsvigia orientalis

Above: Brunsvigia orientalis in bloom after fire, Cape Peninsula.


This huge member of the genus is a case of mistaken identity if there ever was one. Its species epithet ‘orientalis’ means ‘of the Orient’, which is in reference to the belief that Brunsvigia orientalis originated in India. In fact, this proudly South African geophyte is common throughout the country’s winter rainfall zone. It is distributed from Vanrhynsdorp in Namaqualand southwards to the Cape Peninsula and eastwards to Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape. Brunsvigia orientalis grows on sandy flats and dunes and is also occasionally associated with granite derived soils. Flowering takes place from February to April, with increased flowering taking place in response to late summer and early autumn rain.

Brunsvigia josephiniae

Top & Above: Brunsvigia josephiniae in flower at Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens.


The colossal Brunsvigia josephiniae is South Africa’s largest geophyte, both in terms of the size of the bulb and the size of the inflorescence. It is also known as the Candelabra Lily or kandelaarblom or lantanter in Afrikaans. The vast inflorescences are produced in autumn after the first rains have arrived and are pollinated by sunbirds. Once seed has been set the leaves emerge during the winter months. The plant becomes dormant during summer. This makes it highly resilient to low winter temperatures and even fire.

Brunsvigia josephiniae is found in renosterveld vegetation on Malmesbury shale, limestone and sandstone derived soils from the western Karoo, Worcester, Malgas and eastwards to Willowmore. Populations of this species have become increasingly fragmented as a result of habitat transformation for agriculture. This species is further threatened by collection of bulbs from the wild for medicinal use. It is therefore Vulnerable on the Red List of South African Plants.

Brunsvigia bosmaniae

Top & Above: Mass flowering of Brunsvigia bosmaniae at Nieuwoudtville, Bokkeveld Escarpment.


Perhaps one of the most well-known members of the genus, Brunsvigia bosmaniae is known for its spectacular pink autumn displays when it flowers en masse after autumn rain. It is named after a Mrs. J.D. Bosman, who collected the type material of this species. It is relatively common in the Cape Floristic Region, distributed from southwestern Namibia southwards to Tygerberg in the greater Cape Town area. Brunsvigia bosmaniae grows on flats and lower hill slopes on soils derived from dolerite, shale, limestone and granite.

Brunsvigia elandsmontana

Top & Above: Brunsvigia elandsmontana.


Brunsvigia elandsmontana is a relatively new species to science, being described by Dee Snijman in 1994. It is dwarf in size and easily identified by its attractive pink flowers. This species grows in Swartland Alluvium Fynbos on well drained pebbly flats and flowers from March to May. Brunsvigia elandsmontana is a relatively rare species with around 700 individuals present at just one locality. It is listed as Critically Endangered on the Red List of South African Plants.

Brunsvigia marginata

Above: Brunsvigia marginata.


This spectacular member of the genus is hard to miss with its glittering bright red blooms and purple stamens. Brunsvigia marginata was first collected from the Cape at an unrecorded location and cultivated by horticulturalists Georg Scholl and Franz Boos from Schonbrunn Palace near Vienna during the 18th Century. It was also introduced to Kew Gardens by Francis Masson in 1795 from bulbs he collected at the Cape.

This species is distributed from Citrusdal in the Cederberg southwards to Paarl and Worcester where it grows in colonies in fynbos on shale derived soils on north and east facing mountain slopes. Flowering takes place from March to June, often in profusion after fire. However, this species is not wholly fire dependent as certain clones flower annually without being burnt.



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