Lachenalia aloides, copyright Nadiatalent.

Belongs within: Hyacinthoideae.

Lachenalia, Cape cowslips, is a genus of bulbous herbs found in southern South Africa.

On Lachenalia
Published 8 July 2014

Back in 2011, I presented you with a post on the southern African flowering bulb genus Ledebouria. In that post, I mentioned that Ledebouria was just one of a wide diversity of ornamental plants found in that part of the world.

Lachenalia elegans var. flava, from the Pacific Bulb Society.

Lachenalia, sometimes known as Cape cowslips, is a genus of over 100 species found in Namibia and South Africa. Most Lachenalia species sprout and flower in the winter. Lachenalia is not too distant a relative of Ledebouria—both are classified in the squill tribe Massonieae—and bears a distinct resemblance to the latter with its fleshy leaves that are often blotched with purple. Some species of Lachenalia share the geophyllous habit I described in the earlier post for some Ledebouria, with the leaves growing pressed closely to the ground. However, Lachenalia differs from Ledebouria in having flowers with well-developed bracts, and anthers arranged in two series. Also, while the scales of Ledebouria bulbs are often loose, though of Lachenalia bulbs are always tightly packed (Manning et al. 2004).

Lachenalia zebrina f. zebrina, photographed by Alan Horstmann.

Lachenalia species include some popular garden plants, to the extent that some are known as invasive weeds here in the Perth region. Nevertheless, a simple image search immediately shows why they are so popular. Varieties of this genus are available in reds, pinks, yellows, purples… One species, L. viridiflora, has flowers of a quite remarkable turqouise colour. Though revered in cultivation, L. viridiflora is critically endangered in the wild, with a range of only 19 km2 in which it is threatened by grazing, housing development and (almost ironically) the collection of specimens for horticulture.

Lachenalia viridiflora, photographed by A. Harrower.
Systematics of Lachenalia

Characters (from Manning et al. 2004): Deciduous; bulb subterranean, subglobose or flattened, tunicated, often bulbilliferous; outer tunics usually pale and membranous, sometimes papery and dark brown or blackish and then often forming a fibrous neck. Cataphyll tubular, membranous. Leaves 1 to several but usually 2, usually contemporary with flowers but sometimes dying off, prostrate to suberect, usually lanceolate but sometimes terete, linear or heart-shaped, clasping at base, smooth or pustulate, rarely with simple or stellate trichomes, subsucculent or leathery, uniformly green or spotted or banded, especially on sheath. Inflorescence a few- to many-flowered spike, raceme or corymb, sometimes condensed and borne at ground level, upper flowers often vestigial; peduncle erect, rarely condensed, cylindrical or swollen and clavate, sometimes spotted or banded; bracts small, triangular, not spurred, sometimes becoming larger acropetally; bracteoles lacking; pedicels short to moderately long or vestigial. Flowers variously coloured, often with darker tips, often scented, often weakly zygomorphic, campanulate to urceolate or tubular, spreading, nodding or suberect; pedicels spreading or vestigial; tepals fused below into an oblique cup or short to long tube, subequal or inner longer than outer, the outer usually with a swelling or gibbosity near apex, oblong-lanceolate, erect to recurved, persistent; stamens suberect or more or less declinate, filaments fused to base of tepals, inserted in two series at different levels, the outer lower than the inner and sometimes shorter, included or exserted, filiform or clavate; anthers versatile; ovary subglobose; ovules several per locule; style terete, erect or declinate; stigma apical, penicillate. Capsule membranous or papery, ovoid, 3-angled or -winged; seeds subglobose, ovoid or pear-shaped, black, smooth or rugulose, testa tightly adhering. x=5–15.

<==Lachenalia Jacquin ex Murray 1784MGF04 (see below for synonymy)
    |--L. namibiensisMGF04
    `--+--+--L. aloides (L.f.) Hort. Berlin ex Anon. 1899MGF04, CC87 (see below for synonymy)
       |  `--L. pusilla [incl. Massonia undulata, *Brachyscypha undulata]MGF04
       `--+--L. corymbosa (Linnaeus) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
          `--L. ensifolia (Thunberg) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
Lachenalia incertae sedis:
  L. angelicaERV99
  L. arbuthnotiaeDE06
  L. capensisDE06
  L. cernua Duncan in Duncan & Edwards 2006DE06
  *Coelanthus’ complicatus Willdenow ex Schultes & Schultes 1830EN20
  L. congestaERV99
  L. contaminata Aiton 1789 (see below for synonymy)EN20
  L. giessiiCV06
  L. klinghardtianaCV06
  L. kliprandensisERV99
  L. latifoliaERV99
  L. longituba (Van der Merwe) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. lutea Duncan in Duncan & Edwards 2006DE06
  L. maughanii (Barker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. mediana [=*Chloriza mediana]EN20
  L. moniliformis Barker 1983EN20
  L. nardousbergensis Duncan in Duncan & Edwards 2006DE06
  L. nutansCV06
  L. orchioides [=Hyacinthus orchioides, *Orchiops orchioides]EN20
  L. patula Jacquin 1791 [incl. L. succulenta Masson ex Baker 1886]EN20
  L. paucifolia (Barker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. pearsoniiCV06
  L. peersiiDE06
  L. polypodantha Schlechter ex Barker 1979EN20
    |--L. p. ssp. polypodanthaEN20
    `--L. p. ssp. eburnea Duncan 2012EN20
  L. purpureo-caerulea [=*Platyestes purpureo-caerulea]EN20
  L. reflexa Thunb. 1794CC87
  L. stayneriERV99
  L. trichophyllaERV99
  L. unifolia [=*Monoestes unifolia]EN20
  L. variegataDE06

Lachenalia Jacquin ex Murray 1784MGF04 [incl. Brachyscypha Baker 1871MGF04, Chloriza Salisbury 1866EN20, Coelanthus Willdenow ex Schultes & Schultes 1830EN20, Himas Salisbury 1866EN20, Monoestes Salisbury 1866EN20, Orchiops Salisbury 1866EN20, Periboea Kunth 1843MGF04, Platyestes Salisbury 1866EN20, Polyxena Kunth 1843MGF04]

Lachenalia aloides (L.f.) Hort. Berlin ex Anon. 1899MGF04, CC87 [=Phormium aloides L.f. 1782CC87; incl. *L. tricolor Jacq. 1780–1784CC87]

Lachenalia contaminata Aiton 1789 [=Scillopsis contaminata (Aiton) Lemaire 1856; incl. L. albida Trattinick 1814, L. angustifolia Jacquin 1797, *Himas angustifolia, Scillopsis angustifolia (Jacquin) Lemaire 1856, Lachenalia fragrans Loddiges 1826, L. hyacinthina Hort. 1906, L. hyacinthoides Jacquin 1797, Scillopsis hyacinthoides (Jacquin) Lemaire 1856]EN20

Lachenalia corymbosa (Linnaeus) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Hyacinthus corymbosus Linnaeus 1771, Massonia corymbosa (Linnaeus) Ker Gawl. 1807, *Periboea corymbosa (Linnaeus) Kunth 1843, Polyxena corymbosa (Linnaeus) Jessop 1976, Scilla corymbosa (Linnaeus) Ker Gawl. 1812]MGF04

Lachenalia ensifolia (Thunberg) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Mauhlia ensifolia Thunberg 1794, Agapanthus ensifolius (Thunberg) Willdenow 1799, Massonia ensifolia (Thunberg) Ker Gawl. 1802, Polyxena ensifolia (Thunberg) Schönland 1910; incl. Polyanthes pygmaea, *Polyxena pygmaea]MGF04

Lachenalia longituba (Van der Merwe) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Polyxena longituba Van der Merwe 2001]MGF04

Lachenalia maughanii (Barker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Polyxena maughanii Barker 1931]MGF04

Lachenalia paucifolia (Barker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Hyacinthus paucifolius Barker 1941, Periboea paucifolia (Barker) Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies 1997, Polyxena paucifolia (Barker) Van der Merwe & Manning in Goldblatt & Manning 2000]MGF04

*Type species of generic name indicated


[CC87] Clifford, H. T., J. G. Conran, J. B. Williams, R. J. F. Henderson, H. J. Hewson, E. M. Watson, G. J. Keighery, D. M. Churchill, I. R. H. Telford, A. Thongpukdee, N. H. Brittan, A. S. George, W. T. Stearn & T. D. Macfarlane. 1987. Liliaceae. Flora of Australia 45: 148–419.

[CV06] Craven, P., & P. Vorster. 2006. Patterns of plant diversity and endemism in Namibia. Bothalia 36 (2): 175–189.

[DE06] Duncan, G. D., & T. J. Edwards. 2006. Three new species of Lachenalia (Hyacinthaceae: Massonieae) from Western and Northern Cape, South Africa. Bothalia 36 (2): 147–155.

[EN20] Eggli, U., & R. Nyffeler (eds) 2020. Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Monocotyledons 2nd ed. Springer.

[ERV99] Esler, K. J., P. W. Rundel & P. Vorster. 1999. Biogeography of prostrate-leaved geophytes in semi-arid South Africa: hypotheses on functionality. Plant Ecology 142 (1–2): 105–120.

[MGF04] Manning, J. C., P. Goldblatt & M. F. Fay. 2004. A revised generic synopsis of Hyacinthaceae in sub-Saharan Africa, based on molecular evidence, including new combinations and the new tribe Pseudoprospereae. Edinburgh Journal of Botany 60 (3): 533–568.

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