Bowiea volubilis (2010)

PhotoBy Chris Deem (April 2010)

They were surely poisonous. There were three of them – pale-green rounded forms, covered by dry, peeling membranes. The dry layers seemed similar to reptilian scales.

Each of them had an unearthly presence, an appearance of things that should be subterranean, but were not. Their long, thin tendrils – three coiling green masses – covered the nearby vegetation. In the twisted green tendrils were a few small, greenish capsules that resembled the heads of small snakes. Two of the bulbs seemed healthy and strong, but the third seemed shrunken, as if it had received an unseen mortal wound.

There once was a myth of three sisters; two were immortals. The mortal sister was once beautiful. The ugliness of the immortals was not explained. They were the Gorgons.

A Bowiea volubilis is a rather strange plant. I found it listed as both a Hyacinthaceae and, in other books, as a Liliaceae. I’ll leave this for others to debate.

Being bulbs and growing above ground seems rather unusual. I’m not even sure if I should address them as bulbs, considering that I don’t address cacti as “those stems.”

Anyway, these mostly bulblike plants come from eastern and southern Africa, and they are very poisonous. The poisonous nature of the plants and their food- and water-storing bulbs must give B. volubilis a distinct advantage in habitat. These plants have a period of dormancy. You will know it has begun when the tendrillike growth dies back.