My Boophone haemanthoides (also spelled Boophane) is in bloom. I have taken about thirty pictures of it as the flower has opened I am so thrilled. It has taken fourteen years from the sowing of the seed, although I imagine it can be brought to bloom a little sooner, since my bulbs were growing in conditions that were far from ideal for about two years. The flower is a beautiful cream, with pink on the flat stem and tips of the petals. It has a slight sweet fragrance.
It might seem an extreme lesson in patience, waiting fourteen years, but the leaves of this lovely Boophone are magnificent in themselves. Here is the fan of leaves to the right. To give some perspective, the pot that this bulb is grown in is about 18-20" (50cm) wide, and much deeper, an absolute necessity to accommodate the large root system.
There are three members of this amazing South African genus: Boophone disticha; Boophone ernestii-ruschii and Boophone haemanthoides (although B. ernestii-ruschii may now be included with B. haemanthoides). All have very large bulbs which are toxic to cattle, the pollen of the flowers also being somewhat irritating to the eyes, giving it one of it's common names 'Sore Eyes'.
Boophone disticha, seen to the left, is the most commonly grown, and one I have also been able to grow from seed to blooming size successfully. It took my bulbs nine years to bloom, but others report success in seven years. This species grows in both the summer rainfall regions of South Africa and the winter rainfall regions, so it is important to know the origin of your seeds or bulbs, since they will grow at different times of year. The B. disticha bulbs I grow are from the summer rainfall regions, and produce their leaves in spring, blooming before the leaves appear (April for me). They are not self- compatible, so you need two blooming plants to produce seeds. Even without flowers, the bulbs are highly ornamental since the bulbs produce a neat fan of wavy grey leaves.
After blooming, the umbel of both species enlarges considerably as the seed ripens. When the seed is ripe, the whole seed head breaks off, and the wind will tumble it across the landscape, scattering its seeds as it goes. The seeds are known as 'recalcitrant' seeds, meaning that they will germinate immediately and can't be dried or stored. They are soft, and like small fresh peas. Here is the seed head of B. disticha - compare the size to the flower size above.
Boophones have very extensive fleshy roots that need a lot of room. I grow mine in pots that are about 40-50cm (16-20") in diameter, and about 50cm (20") deep. They are often grown in a mix that is mostly sand, but since that would make the pots so heavy I would have trouble lifting them, I use a mix that is about 30% organic material (ground bark), 30% horticultural pumice and 30% perlite. I fertilize regularly during the growing season with a liquid balanced fertilizer, and allow them to go completely dry in the winter. I have not found them difficult, patience is the most important ingredient for growing them to blooming size, plus giving them enough root room.