Ledebouria

Ledebouria socialis, copyright Tony Rodd.

Belongs within: Hyacinthoideae.

Ledebouria is a mostly African genus of bulbous herbs that often bear spotted or banded leaves.

Patterns on a squill
Published 12 July 2011
Violet squill Ledebouria socialis, photographed by Stan Shebs.

The south of Africa is one of the world’s centres for botanical diversity. Home to an abundance of the floristically wierd and wonderful, you might be surprised to know just how many of your favourite garden plants (assuming that you have favourite garden plants) originate from that part of the world: proteas, leucadendrons, red-hot pokers (Kniphofia), freesias, agapanthus*… to name a few. The subject of today’s post, the genus Ledebouria, is perhaps not one of the best known of the southern African contributions to horticulture, but it’s none the less noteworthy.

*Well, personally, I’m not that fussed on agapanthus (‘orrible weedy things), but a not insignificant number of people would disagree with me on that point.

Ledebouria revoluta, from here.

Ledebouria is a genus of the plant family Hyacinthaceae that also includes such familiar plants as hyacinths and bluebells, and within that family to a group known as squills. Like other members of the family, Ledebouria species are bulbiferous with developed leaves only present for part of the year. There are about forty or more species of Ledebouria in southern Africa, with outliers in Madagascar and India (Manning et al. 2004), though the number of species varies according to whether or not the genera Drimiopsis and Resnova are treated separately. Molecular analyses have tended to fail to distinguish the three genera, but morphological and combined analyses support their reciprocal monophyly (Lebatha et al. 2006). The Drimiopsis and Resnova species have more loosely packed leaves in the bulb than the species of Ledebouria sensu stricto (Lebatha et al. 2006) and are mostly woodland and forest species as opposed to the open-country Ledebouria (Manning et al. 2004).

Ledebouria marginata, from here.

Some species of Ledebouria have become popular as houseplants, not for their flowers which are reasonably modest, but for their leaves which are fleshy and marked with dark purple blotches and stripes. The number of leaves produced from one bulb at a time varies from up to twenty-five to only a single leaf in Ledebouria monophylla. Mature plants may be up to a metre tall in L. zebrina, down to only 3 mm high in L. galpinii (Venter 1993). The latter (as well L. monophylla) is one of a number of species in which the leaves grow tightly pressed to the ground, so despite the low height of the entire plant, the individual leaves are up to 80 mm long. In such species, the total number of leaves at a time is always low, never more than five. This growth habit is known as geophylly, and the reasons behind it remain uncertain. Geophyllous plants are generally found in areas with strongly seasonal yet regular rainfall (Esler et al. 1999). It has been suggested that the geophyllous habit protects against grazing animals or against CO2 or water loss; alternatively (as favoured by Esler et al.), it may create a microclimate that affects the temperature of the leaves, either causing their temperature to remain low in the mornings (allowing dew to form on the leaves) and/or raising the temperature of the leaves during midday (allowing elevated rates of photosynthesis).

Leaves of Ledebouria ovatifolia ssp. scabrida, a geophyllous species, photographed by Connall Oosterbroek.

As already alluded to, most Ledebouria plants form flower spikes bearing only pale flowers, though many species may produce more than one spike in succession over a single growing season. Flowers are insect-pollinated by Lepidoptera and Hymenoptera. Fruits are dry capsules, and the seeds are dispersed short distances from the parent plant by wind (generally by being scattered from a waving spike) or water (mostly by falling rain). Some species form lateral bulblets, such as the aptly named Ledebouria socialis (see this page on L. socialis as a house plant), leading to the formation of colonies of plants connected by subterranean stolons up to 200 mm long. The largest recorded such colony, for a clone of L. cooperi, had a diameter of five meeters (Venter 1993).

Systematics of Ledebouria

Characters (from Manning et al. 2004): Deciduous or evergreen; bulb usually subterranean, sometimes epigeal, subglobose to cylindrical, tunicated or more usually of more or less loosely imbricate scales, fleshy, usually producing fibrous threads when torn. Leaves usually contemporary or emergent with flowers, rarely dry at flowering, 1 to several, linear-lanceolate to suborbicular or cordate, sometimes pseudopetiolate, thin-textured or leathery, glabrous or pubescent, suberect or spreading, sometimes twisted or undulate, usually spotted or banded with darker green or purple. Inflorescences usually more than one in succession, each a few- to many-flowered raceme, sometimes corymbose or subspicate; peduncle erect at first then decumbent, at first densely flowered but elongating and becoming lax; bracts either small and membranous or vestigial or lacking, not spurred; bracteoles present or absent; pedicels usually short, sometimes vestigial. Flowers usually nodding, green to purple, rotate to campanulate or subglobose, usually unscented; tepals usually more or less erect below and recurved above, sometimes erect and incurved above, fused at base, oblong-lanceolate or dimorphic with inner tepals cucullate and connivent; stamens exserted and then usually purple or included, free, uniseriate or biseriate, the outer inserted at base of tepals, the inner higher up, sometimes shorter than the outer; filaments filiform or triangular; anthers dorsifixed; ovary ovoid or turbinate and then 3- to 6-lobed with short carpophore, the lobes often with swollen, nectar-producing lobules below; ovules (1)2 per locule; style terete; stigma apical, penicillate. Capsule globose to obovoid or clavate, 3-lobed; seeds 1 or 2 per locule, subglobose, black or brown, testa tightly adhering. x=11, 10, 5.

<==Ledebouria Roth 1821 (see below for synonymy)EN20
    |--*L. hyacinthina Roth 1821MGF04, EN20
    |--L. humifusa (Baker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
    |--‘Drimiopsis’ kirkiiMGF04
    |--L. pilosa (Van der Merwe) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
    |--L. socialis (Baker) Jessop 1970MGF04, EN20 (see below for synonymy)
    |--+--L. petiolata Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
    |  `--L. woodii (Baker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Drimiopsis woodii Baker 1897]MGF04
    `--+--L. undulataMGF04
       `--+--L. cooperiMGF04
          `--L. ovatifolia (Baker) Jessop 1970MGF04, EN20 (see below for synonymy)
               |--L. o. ssp. ovatifolia (see below for synonymy)EN20
               `--L. o. ssp. scabrida Crouch & Edwards 2007EN20
Ledebouria incertae sedis:
  L. atropurpurea (Br.) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. barteri (Baker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. botryoides (Baker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
    |--L. b. ssp. botryoidesMGF04
    `--L. b. ssp. prostrata (Stedje) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. burkei (Baker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
    |--L. b. ssp. burkeiMGF04
    `--L. b. ssp. stolonissima (Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. comptonii (Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. corrugata Cumming 2015EN20
  L. cremnophila Venter & Van Jaarsveld 2007EN20
  L. davidsoniae (Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. ensifolia (Ecklon) Venter & Edwards 2003 (see below for synonymy)EN20
  L. fischeri (Engl.) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. lachenalioides (Baker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  ‘Lachenalia’ lanceifolia [=*Sugillaria lanceifolia]EN20
  *Eratobotrys’ lilacina Fenzl ex Endlicher 1842EN20
  L. loedolffiae Van Jaarsveld & Venter 2017EN20
  L. maculata Dalzell 1850MGF04
  L. maxima (Van der Merwe) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. megaphylla (Hankey ex Sahw) Van Jaarsveld & Eggli 2016 [=Resnova megaphylla Hankey ex Shaw 2012]EN20
  L. minor (Van der Merwe) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. nossibeensis (Perrier) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. pusilla (Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  L. reilleyana (Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 (see below for synonymy)MGF04
  ‘Hyacinthus’ revolutus [=*Xeodolon revolutus]EN20
  ‘Scilla’ schlechteri [=*Resnova schlechteri]EN20
  L. venteri Van Jaarsveld & van Wyk 2007EN20

Ledebouria Roth 1821 [incl. Drimiopsis Lindley & Paxton 1851, Eratobotrys Fenzl ex Endlicher 1842, Resnova van der Merwe 1946, Sugillaria Salisbury 1866, Xeodolon Salisbury 1866]EN20

Ledebouria atropurpurea (Br.) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Drimiopsis atropurpurea Br. 1921]MGF04

Ledebouria barteri (Baker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Drimiopsis barteri Baker in Saunders 1870]MGF04

Ledebouria botryoides (Baker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Drimiopsis botryoides Baker in Saunders 1870]MGF04

Ledebouria botryoides ssp. prostrata (Stedje) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Drimiopsis botryoides ssp. prostrata Stedje 1994]MGF04

Ledebouria burkei (Baker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Drimiopsis burkei Baker in Saunders 1870]MGF04

Ledebouria burkei ssp. stolonissima (Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Drimiopsis burkei ssp. stolonissima Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies 1997]MGF04

Ledebouria comptonii (Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Drimiopsis comptonii Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies 1997]MGF04

Ledebouria davidsoniae (Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Drimiopsis davidsoniae Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies 1997]MGF04

Ledebouria ensifolia (Ecklon) Venter & Edwards 2003 [=Drimia ensifolia Ecklon 1830, Scilla ensifolia (Ecklon) Britten 1908; incl. S. ecklonii Baker 1892, Drimia ludwigii Miquel 1839, Idothea ludwigii (Miquel) Kunth 1843, Scilla ludwigii (Miquel) Baker 1870, S. prasina Baker 1870, S. pusilla Baker 1876]EN20

Ledebouria fischeri (Engl.) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Scilla fischeri Engl. 1895, Drimiopsis fischeri (Engl.) Stedje 1996]MGF04

Ledebouria humifusa (Baker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Scilla humifusa Baker 1881, Resnova humifusa (Baker) Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies 1997]MGF04

Ledebouria lachenalioides (Baker) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Scilla lachenalioides Baker 1897, Avonsera lachanalioides (Baker) Speta 1998, Drimiopsis lachenalioides (Baker) Jessop 1972, Resnova lachenalioides (Baker) Van der Merwe 1946]MGF04

Ledebouria maxima (Van der Merwe) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Resnova maxima Van der Merwe 1946]MGF04

Ledebouria minor (Van der Merwe) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Resnova minor Van der Merwe 1946]MGF04

Ledebouria nossibeensis (Perrier) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Scilla nossibeensis Perrier 1935, Resnova nossibeensis (Perrier) Speta 1998]MGF04

Ledebouria ovatifolia (Baker) Jessop 1970MGF04, EN20 [=Scilla ovatifolia Baker 1870EN20, S. lancifolia var. ovatifolia Baker 1870EN20]

Ledebouria ovatifolia (Baker) Jessop 1970 ssp. ovatifolia [incl. Scilla albomarginata Van der Merwe 1944, S. cicatricosa Smith 1930, S. climatocarpha Smith 1930, S. collina Hutchinson 1946, S. elevans Van der Merwe 1944, S. guttata Smith 1930]EN20

Ledebouria petiolata Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=*Drimiopsis maculata Lindley 1851 non L. maculata Dalzell 1850]MGF04

Ledebouria pilosa (Van der Merwe) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Resnova pilosa Van der Merwe 1946]MGF04

Ledebouria pusilla (Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Drimiopsis pusilla Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies 1997]MGF04

Ledebouria reilleyana (Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies) Manning & Goldblatt in Manning, Goldblatt & Fay 2004 [=Drimiopsis reilleyana Müll.-Doblies & Müll.-Doblies 1997]MGF04

Ledebouria socialis (Baker) Jessop 1970MGF04, EN20 [=Scilla socialis Baker 1870EN20; incl. S. laxiflora Baker 1891EN20, S. paucifolia Baker 1870EN20, S. violacea Hutchinson 1932EN20, Ledebouria violacea (Hutchinson) Tjaden 1989EN20]

*Type species of generic name indicated

References

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

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.

Lebatha, P., M. H. Buys & G. Stedje. 2006. Ledebouria, Resnova and Drimiopsis: a tale of three genera. Taxon 55 (3): 643–652.

[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.

Venter, S. 1993. A revision of the genus Ledebouria Roth in South Africa. MSc thesis, University of Natal.

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