Amaryllids of Southern Africa


Cyrtanthus obliquus Dec2001. Image by  Cameron McMaster


Cyrtanthus are endemic to South Africa of which there are approximately 50 species. These bulbous plants are very diverse in flower, bulb type and cultivation requirements. One could spend an entire lifetime growing this genus exclusively with continual satisfaction/expanding knowledge of bulbs and their requirements. Growing Cyrtanthus can be a tricky business indeed.

To quote most avid Cyrtanthus collectors, this genus includes some very easy to cultivate species. However, there are many species that are hard, if not difficult, to cultivate. C. spiralis is very sensitive to water in the medium and C. obliquus is known for its resistance to home cultivation. I have transplanted C. obliquus out into the open garden, in heavy clay/sand soil and the results look promising. Reputedly, C. obliquus die after 4-5 years growing, not long before flowering. This can be frustrating for many gardeners. Proper study of this genus, corresponding with fellow Cyrtanthus growers and careful observations in mediums used are all good ingredients for the Cyrtanthus collector. Naturalists', such a Cameron McMaster, add greatly to the collective knowledge bank of Cyrtanthus collectors. I find his field observations essential reading for any avid Amaryllid grower. 

Cyrtanthus obliquus Keilandscape.  Image by Cameron McMaster

Very difficult species like Cyrtanthus spirals need to have a large amount of course gravel into their mediums for excellent drainage. Most species prefer light shaded areas. C. clavatus, C. ochroluecus, C. mackenii, C. sanguineus, C. smithiae, C. epiphyticus, C. obliquus, C. falcatus, C. contractus, are growing in the same medium. I will report more elaborate finding later. Cultivating Cyrtanthus is some thing you need to experiment with in your garden. They are niche dwellers. Buy this I mean that once you find a good spot for them to grow, do not move them. Look for similar places in your garden and plant the Cyrtanthus there too. Or, you can try to make an environment for them. Most of the above Cyrtanthus do well in the shade house or fernery. I have found 50% sand mixed with 50% potting mix a good seed raising medium for the above species. This medium provides plenty of air and constant moisture availability. Seedlings can be moved into the garden when 2 - 3 years old.

Cultivating in Pots: C. spiralis, C. helictus, C. herrei and C. montanus are species that have specific needs in their medium requirements. Fill the pot that you are using 1/2 way with broken bricks or large stones. Cover this with a 1-inch stone to seal the large air holes and stop the medium from falling through. Them, using a mix of 3 Parts Orchid bark (5-10mm), 2 Parts sharp sand and 1/4 part leaf mulch (composted), pot on your bulbs as usual. Keep in mind that many species like to be planted with at least 1/2 the bulb showing. If they want to go deeper, they will do this on their own. These 4 species also need more sun light/less shade to do well. Place the pots where there is plenty of airflow.

Feeding is by composted cow manure. I spread a light application of this at the start and during the growing season. This can also be added as a liquid fertilizer, soaking the composted manure in water for a couple of days before use.


Cyrtanthus elatus 14Jan.  Image by  Cameron McMaster

 We have Cyrtanthus species and hybrids growing here at Mainly Amaryllids Garden and we are keen to expand this genus in the enthusiast's collection. These bulbs will be listed as they become available. I am doing trails now to see what species will grow here at Barnawartha.

Happy gardening,



Cyrtanthus falcatus Sep16.  Image by Cameron McMaster



A disk of images and cultivation information called 'Wild Bulbs of the Eastern Cape' is available from Cameron McMaster. This disk is a highly informative and extremely pictorial collection, captured by Cameron whilst collecting seeds out in the field. Cameron McMaster is one of South Africa's most noted naturalists, whose enthusiasm shines through on this information available. His love of the plants and the surrounding environment resounds through this disk. I consider myself very lucky to have a friendship with such a dedicated and personable gentleman.



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