In Victorian times, the lovely Veltheimia bracteata, see to the left, was much loved as a parlor plant. This beautiful bulb comes from the eastern portion of South Africa, from regions that receive rain year-round, where it grows in shade or semi shade. Most bulbs need a lot of sun, but V. bracteata can do well in shade, and even adapt to conditions indoors, given as much bright light as possible, but no direct sun. The beautiful wavy emerald green leaves are attractive enough in themselves, but in late spring or early summer the bulbs send up a tightly packed bud which opens into tubular flowers that are usually pink. There is a much less common yellow form, seen here to the right, and even less common ivory or white ones, sometimes flushed with pink.
The bulbs become quite large, and will, with time, produce offsets. They have a short dormancy in mid to late summer, at which time the dying leaves can be removed. Soon after a new set of shiny green leaves will emerge. It is important to keep V. bracteata moist (but not wet) throughout the year, and application of a liquid all- purpose fertilizer during its growth cycle in the winter is beneficial.
There is another species, Veltheimia capensis, seen here to the left, which comes from the western region of the Cape Province of South Africa, where the climate is Mediterranean, with cool rainy winters and hot dry summers. This Veltheimia needs completely different growing conditions, with as much sun as possible during its winter growth, and a fairly long dry dormancy in summer. The leaves are a glaucous grey, and are ruffled along the edges. Unfortunately, this one is not suitable as a house plant, since it needs a lot of sun. Here, to the right, are its attractive inflated seed pods.
Both species can be suitable as garden plants, given the right conditions. They are not particularly hardy, but can withstand a few degrees of frost, so are best on the California coast, or in southern California gardens. V. bracteata is more suitable for the irrigated garden, while V. capensis is an excellent plant for the dry garden, and both adapt very well to container culture. For greenhouses, they are superb, and will reliably flower and multiply.
It's a pity that these lovely bulbs have fallen out of style as houseplants, especially when you see the dismal offerings of most garden centers labeled 'Foliage Plant'. If you can tolerate about two months of dormancy with V. bracteata, you will have a lovely houseplant that blooms spectacularly every year. What more could you want?