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A View of South Africa at Longwood

By Karl Gercens, on March 13, 2009

It's still officially winter according to the calendar, but the indoor gardens are bursting from the seams with springtime color! My personal favorite is the Mediterranean Garden with its carpet of winter bulbs...

It's still officially winter according to the calendar, but the indoor gardens are bursting from the seams with springtime color!  My personal favorite is the Mediterranean Garden with its carpet of winter bulbs that naturally blossom in the cool sunny days and short nights of southeastern Pennsylvania.  Of course these little beauties aren't natives to the Keystone State, but they are originally from near the borders of the Free State and South Africa.  The cool Mediterranean climate of South Africa is characterized by mild moist winters and hot dry summers.  The diversity of plants in the Cape Floral Region is greater than that of any of the six floral regions of the world. And did I mention the Cape Floral Region is the SMALLEST of them all?  It covers only .04% of the earth's surface compared to the Holarctic Floral Region (including North America) covering 42% of the surface.  It is so very important that we all be aware of the tiny treasures native to only that part of the world and ensure that a valiant effort is made to protect the native landscape which supports their very life.  Of the plants native to the Cape Floral Region, 70% are found ONLY within that area and nowhere else in the entire world. On my first visit to South Africa almost 10 years ago, I was amazed at the passion for native plants that the people of South Africa possess.  Here at Longwood Gardens we're committed to displaying beautiful plants, and we make sure that our South African bulbs come from growers that don't collect wild stock.  In fact, many of our South African bulbs are grown from seed or have been propagated here in Longwood's greenhouses. I invite you to step into the garden and explore some of the great beauty and diversity found within the Cape Floral Region.  A few of my favorites blossoming now include the following... Fairy bells is a dainty plant that packs a punch when it comes to flower count and longevity in the garden. 

Melasphaerula Ramosa Melasphaerula Ramosa.

Our Melasphaerula ramosa began blooming in February and will generally continue all the way until the end of April.  There's only one species in this genus so it's especially exciting to have these at Longwood!

Lachenalia purpureo-careulea Lachenalia purpureo-careulea.

Lachenalia purpureocaerulea. With a name as fun as this who needs a common name?!?!  Lachenalia is commonly called cape cowslip and they are related to hyacinths, though many of them lack the traditional scent.  I bet you can't guess where the common name comes from, let's ask the cows!  This stunningly beautiful flower emerges from its summer slumber in late October for us and begins its 3 week show near the end of February.  Blooming earlier in the season was Lachenalia viridiflora with its "toothpaste green" flowers and a bit later on will be Lachenalia mathewsii, a cheery yellow species that is nearly extinct in the wild!

Veltheimia bractea lutea Veltheimia bractea lutea.

Perhaps the largest South African bulb we grow is Veltheimia bracteata, both the traditional pink form and the more unusual yellow form.  Also in the hyacinth family, these plants can tolerate shady conditions as compared to their South African cousins which generally prefer full sun.  Bulb enthusiasts often try these beauties in their home as long as cool temperatures can be kept during the winter growing cycle.



Onixotis stricta Onixotis stricta.

Lastly, I'd like to introduce you to Onixotis stricta. You'll see a common name of water phlox floating around, but don't be fooled as this plant is more closely related to our autumn blooming Colchicum. In the native regions of South Africa you'll find this plant growing submerged underneath several inches of water, but as with many of these types of bulbs, it's imperative that they go very dry in the summer. Check out the Mediterranean Garden as often as you can in the very cool months of the year as all the plants mentioned above will cease flowering as the days warm up.

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