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The white paintbrush bulb is easy to grow

 

Last updated 12/12/2019 at 8:42pm

Special to Village News

If you are interested in growing a really easy bulb from the Natal region of South Africa, the scadoxus albiflos is the white flowering winter bulb for you.

I have been growing many species in the amaryllis family for years, which the scadoxus bulbs are in and very easy to grow.

South African offers a vast array of wonderful bulbous plants that do quite well in our Mediterranean climate of Southern California

These unique bulbs were some of the first plants brought to Europe from South Africa with the early seafarers. The Hollanders were really keen on these plants and grew them in conservatory collections in the 17th century.

South Africa was a treasure-chest of plant jewels for the Europeans to grow exotic plants from faraway lands, but only for the very small slice of the population who could afford them.

The white paintbrush bulb formerly named Haemanthus, flowers from November thru December in the shady nooks of my tree-filled garden. This shade-loving bulb produces tongue like broad leaves, (another common name is elephant's tongue), but I prefer the more elegant name of "white paintbrush."

This genus of scadoxus bulbs is wide and varied, with some being evergreen and some going dormant and taking a rest for a short season of dormancy. They are an excellent choice for a shade garden but also make great looking container plants.

All of these bulbs enjoy a rich organic type of soil with excellent soil drainage to do their best. Heavy clay-like soils can retain too much moisture and the bulbs can rot, so be mindful of the soils.

Bees harvest the abundant pollen and return to their hive, and it's like coming home from the grocery store with rich nutritious food for the colony of bees to thrive on.

As the bulbs mature, they will produce offshoots from the mother bulb, which can be separated as they increase and give you additional bulbs for your garden or share with a friend or two.

When the flowers are pollinated, either by nature or hand-pollination, they will produce colorful seeds from red and orange to white, which is an added attraction.

My horticultural patience is tested by growing seeds that might take between 3-5 years before I see the plants come into bloom, and that takes belief in the magic of seeds, my friends.

I had the good fortune many years ago to supply a bulb company in Carlsbad with different types of bulbs that I grew to be marketed to growers and nurseries, and it was always challenging to supply the number of bulbs on some of the orders.

So, what I could not grow entirely from seeds or divisions, I used a tissue laboratory to propagate young bulbs in large numbers, and then I would field grow them to a mature size to be marketed.

Once, I got a phone call from a doctor in Heidelberg, Germany, who was doing cancer research and needed mature Haemanthus Katherine bulbs as part of his medical investigation in studying the cells of this specific bulb. His scientific studies were that these bulbs had similar cellular structure with hormones and auxins under the microscope that could be used for medical research.

This bulb species, at that time, was fairly rare to come by to fill the orders. So, I returned to my old botanical hunting grounds of Santa Barbara and went plant hunting at some of the old estates and private gardens that I knew of from working up in that coastal community in previous years.

I would drive through Montecito, Hope Ranch and the Santa Barbara area scouting for some of these rare bulbs growing in private gardens. This gave me great opportunities to meet with homeowners, landscapers and horticultural nurseryman in helping me in my quest for the rare and unusual types of plants that I would purchase.

My hunting was very successful and I supplied these bulbs to the doctor in Germany for many years. It opened up many fabulous gardens that I had a chance to investigate and meet really nice and generous plant people in the Santa Barbara area.

If you want to explore other bulbs that do really well in our San Diego region, here is a small sampling: sea squills, naked ladies, clivia, ismene, crinums, amarcrinums, eucomis, babiana, nerines, amaryllis, bearded iris, paper-white narcissus, ranunculus, freesia and ixia, to mention a few.

There are bulb societies around the globe to hook up with, but one that I favor is the Southern California Day-lily and Bulb Society.

One great local source of imported bulbs from around the globe is the Easy to Grow Bulbs Company in Oceanside, which has great internet offerings throughout the year.

Many of these bulbs are threatened in their native habitats and, perhaps in your garden, you just might be growing some of these rare plants into the future.

"He who sets out plants in their garden reaps many benefits to enjoy for years."

Roger Boddaert creates eco-friendly landscapes and does professional certified tree work here in San Diego. He can be reached at (760) 728-4297.

 

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