Albuca (2015)

By Eric Driskill (February 2015)

PhotoAlbuca is in the Hyacinthaceae family and is closely related to Ornithogalum. Every species in the genus grow from bulbs. It has over 100 species, mostly winter-growing.

The genus originates from the southwest Cape and northwards into Namaqualand, South Africa, with a few species extending into tropical Africa and Arabia. Most species of Albuca have a dormancy period after flowering when they lose their leaves.

There are many albucas grown as ornamentals, with their flush of strap-shaped, vivid green leaves accompanied by a nice, though unspectacular, unbranched flower scape. There are two types of flowers in the genus, the upward-facing variety and the pendant variety.

Flowers range from white and yellow to green with a green stripe down the middle of each outer tepal. The tepals on some species open broadly. On other species, the outer tepals open while the inner ones remain closed, held together at the tips with hairs and hooks – nature’s velcro.

There are several species of Albuca known for the character of their leaves, which look like so many watch springs. The foliage spirals, with some species having a graceful spiral upward, while others are so tightly wound that the leaves resemble a tendril wrapped around an imaginary twig or blade of grass. These are the ones many hobbyists value enough to pot up and make room on the bench. Fortunately, most of these whimsical species are rather small and don’t take up too much space.

One species quite common in cultivation is A. spiralis. Its leaves are 3 to 6 inches long, dark green and gracefully spiral upward. Another species with spiral leaves, A. namaquensis, is also common in cultivation. Thinner than those of A. spiralis, its leaves are glaucous and finely haired along the margins.

Plants in the genus require a well-drained soil mix. When the foliage begins to grow, you might want to consider moving them into the brightest light you have available. Bright light will result in tighter spirals on plants.

A well-grown spiral-leaf albuca is certainly a conversation piece. If you find spirals appealing, you might also want to check out the genus Gethyllis, which also has some impressive foliage.