top of page

A Taste for the Exotic: Bulbs from Africa

I guess you could say I have a penchant for the stranger plant representatives of the world. It's all relative, of course. What is an everyday plant in South Africa, for instance, is exotic for me here in the Great Lakes region.

Two years ago, I somehow discovered, and immediately fell for, South African bulbs. I learned that amaryllis, gladiolus, Agapanthus, Clivia, Crinum, Eucomis (pineapple lily), Freesia, and Kniphofia (red hot poker) all come from Africa. The list also is a partial round-up of those I've grown.

Gladiolus 'Lucky Star' is one of my favorite African flowers.

Bulbs that aren't as common are, of course, the ones I'm most interested in. I found Telos Rare Bulbs, a wonderful resource for the unusual geophyte collector. (Geophyte is the collective title for a plant with an underground storage organ.)

Nerine (pronounced NARE-een), is a southern African native, a relative of the well-known amaryllis. According to the authors of The Color Encyclopedia of Cape Bulbs, one of the most striking features of Nerine flowers is the glitter of reflected sunlight on the tepal (quasi-petal) surface.

Table Mountain Butterfly from Africa

Another fascinating fact is Nerine's pollination partner: the large satyrid butterfly known as the Table Mountain Beauty, based on its stomping ground on the pride of Table Mountain, a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town in South Africa. This butterfly's scientific name is Aeropetes tulbaghia.

Nerine 'Venus' shows of its glittery petals.

I also found a variety called 'Ella K', at Easy to Grow Bulbs.

Nerine 'Ella K' is a gorgeous white version of the African plant.

Last year, I'd lost track of my Nerine, forgetting, for instance, which pots I'd planted them in. I lugged all of my tender potted plants from the patio to various nooks and crannies of the garage, work room, and crawl space. So wherever they ended up last summer, they failed to bloom. But this year, I discovered two pots with bulbs I didn't recognize. (I blame a combination of diminishing memory power and hundreds of plants.)

Bulbs of Nerine like to be crowded. I'm hoping they're happy enough to bloom this year.

So now comes the reason for my love for the unusual: will these pots of bulbs, just recently identified, bloom this year? Many bulbs resent being disturbed. So whatever they decide to do, I'll be saving them again for next year. It's certainly worth it for me to see these exotic flowers once again.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page