Amaryllids of Southern Africa


 Haemanthus coccineus, Bredasdorp habitat, RSA


The genus Haemanthus is endemic to Southern Africa. There are approximately twenty-one species in the genus.

This genus may be summer growing, winter growing or evergreen.  The bulbs are medium to large bulbs, surrounded in a papery covering. The flower is an umbel of many small flowers, surrounded by a large fleshy spathe (a large bract between the flower and the leaf, which encloses the flower cluster). Usually the flowers are produced before the leaves, except in the evergreen species where leaves are present during the blooming period. The flowers can be white or pink to red. The fruit is a soft, fleshy berry. After removing the pulp from the seeds, the seeds can be planted directly into the medium, gently pressing them into the medium, leaving some of the seed exposed.  

Haemanthus species are best cultivated in a very well drained, raised bed or a large pot. You will need a 30" pot for some of the larger species like H. sanguineus and H. coccineus. Smaller species like H. crispus and H. unifolatus will grow well in a 20" pot for many years. Soil type and good drainage play a big role in how your Haemanthus will grow. Certain species from desert/sandy regions like H. namaquensis and H. norterii require a deep sandy medium to do well and a complete dry rest during the dormancy period. H. coccineus can easily survive and do well in the garden. H. montanus needs a winter rest and this rest needs to be dry also.


Haemanthus carneus in bloom at Mainly Amaryllids Garden.

When growing Haemanthus species that require shady or semi-sun positions like H. carneus, H. humilis and H albiflos, use a potting mix with 50% sand added to improved the texture of the soil. I have had excellent success growing these species under shade-cloth (75%) and feeding well during the growing season. More notes on this species and H. humilis can be found here Haemanthus humilis notes


 Haemanthus coccineus, Napier, RSA


Haemanthus sanguineus, Brenton,  RSA, in fruit


  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.   Wild Bulbs of the Eastern Cape disk 


The following excerpts are taken from Cameron McMaster's  Order Wild Bulbs of the Eastern Cape disk 

Excerpt 1.

The Interesting forms of Haemanthus in the Eastern Cape

Cameron and Rhoda McMaster   Email:

 At least five species of this fascinating genus each with a number of forms and varieties, occur in the Eastern Cape.  

The most widespread is H. albiflos which is amazingly adaptive and versatile in its habitat.  It is a particularly desirable and easy to grow garden subject and is also suitable as a ground cover in areas of semi-shade.  It is equally at home in deep shade on forest floors, on rocky sea shores exposed to salt spray, in coastal dune forest, on cliff faces in hot river valleys where it clings in large clumps to crevasses in full sun, and in shady places on high altitude inland mountain ranges.  It is evergreen and multiplies vegetatively, as well as from seed.  The attractive white flowers appear in May and the ripe seeds are carried in equally attractive clusters of scarlet fruit.  

When new telephone lines were being put in at the coast, we picked up a number of H. albiflos that had been uprooted. We planted them under a tree, where the leaves were frosted off in the first winter, but subsequently they retained their leaves even at -5C overnight. Seedlings keep their leaves even at -2C overnight. It seems that they.............. Order Wild Bulbs of the Eastern Cape disk 

Excerpt 2.

Haemanthus montanus occurs in isolated local populations from the Eastern Cape northwards and the Bedford district is probably its most southern extremity.  H. montanus grows in small areas of poorly drained shallow soil with an impervious substratum.  It completes its annual cycle in four months, the period during which......... Order Wild Bulbs of the Eastern Cape disk 

Excerpt 3.

H. humilis humilis has fairly round flat leaves, flowers in January and is deciduous.  New leaves appear with the flowers and persist through to late spring.  It occurs in isolated populations between rocks on steep cliff faces.  The different populations are extremely variable with regard to size, the degree of hairiness and the colour of leaves and flowers. The most widespread is a medium sized pink form, very common on steep north facing krantzes in the Cathcart district.  It was always a puzzle to us how many young plants became established on almost vertical places between the rock strata on cliffs.  When handling ripe seed, we soon realised that this is due to fact that the seed is connected to sticky threads that enable it to adhere to virtually any surface and, under favourable conditions they become rooted seedlings.

An isolated population of H. humilis which has small grey hairy leaves and cream flowers, occurs on the farm Keibolo in the Kei River Valley growing under acacia trees in semi shade. 

Another amazing giant form grows in full shade on a south facing cliff along the Kei River.  It has massive dark green leaves as large as dinner plates, almost hairless, and gorgeous large deep.... Order Wild Bulbs of the Eastern Cape disk 

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