Haemanthus albiflos (2009)

PhotoBy Ann Grace (March 2009)

Haemanthus albiflos is a winter-flowering bulb found in cool, shady dells along the coast of South Africa’s Eastern Province and northward into Kwazulu-natal. It grows in both winter and summer rainfall regions and has the very desirable trait of retaining its foliage throughout the year. In warm climates, it can be grown in outdoor gardens, where it may be left to naturalize and spread over six or seven years until the clump needs dividing.

The bulb is large (5 to 8 centimeters) and planted so the upper half sits exposed above the planting substrate. The lance-shaped leaves are long, broad and thick. Bulbs produce a new pair of leaves once a year. The front side of the leaves is glossy green, while the reverse side and the edges are covered with fine, soft hairs. Mature plants can reach 25 centimeters high.

In its natural habitat in South Africa, H. albiflos flowers in the winter. In indoor cultivation, mature plants flower reliably, but the timing is less predictable. A flower bud grows out on a long stem and opens above the foliage. The flower is an umbel containing so many flowerets that it can be 3 to 5 centimeters across. Large masses of bright yellow anthers project out, inviting the descriptive names of shaving brush, paintbrush or powder puff.

The articles I read said that Haemanthus albiflos is easily cared for, tolerant and undemanding. It grows well in a standard succulent mixture that provides good water drainage and ample aeration of the roots. A shallow azalea-type pot provides sufficient depth to hold the lower half of the bulb and allow the thick, fleshy roots to spread out horizontally. It grows well with light shade or filtered sun and regular watering.

The bulb is said to offset prolifically. My plant came with six offsets. Once settled in its pot, it is recommended that the plant be left undisturbed for years to slowly grow and become pot-bound. In this mature state, it can be expected to flower abundantly.

I especially enjoy plants that come alive in the winter, some showing a little growth at last, some flowering and some acquiring red highlights under the lights. I am very glad to have the Haemanthus albiflos and look forward to watching it grow and someday even make yellow paintbushes.