Amazing Amaryllids--Dee Snijman

Mary Sue Ittner
Fri, 09 Jan 2004 17:13:25 PST
Dear All,

I just came across in my unsent emails the beginning of a summary of Dee 
Snijman's talk from the IBSA symposium last August. I started writing it up 
from my notes and then lost steam when I got to a part I couldn't quite 
figure out. And at the time I was a bit burned out on reporting. I was just 
going to send these notes on Dee's talk only to the three people who 
requested them, but there are a few bits that I think others might find 
interesting since it illustrates her title: Amazing Amaryllids: Specialised 
but High Risk Lifestyles. So I have decided to send this post on to 
everyone. I'd like to point out that since this was a South African 
symposium, those are the amaryllids she was discussing.

Dee told us there is a proposal from taxonomists to sink Amaryllidaceae 
into Alliaceae. She hopes they will keep Amaryllidaceae separate. For one 
thing the plants in this family don't have the onion-like smell and they 
also have alkaloids that are different.

Currently there are 59 genera and 850 species in the Amaryllid family. It 
is found world wide, but especially in South Africa and South America. Some 
plants in this family flower regularly and others flower only with specific 
triggers. It contains one of the largest plants with a bulb, Brunsvigia 
josephinae, genera with huge numbers of flowers per inflorescence (Crossyne 
has 200+ flowers), but also contains some very small plants (Strumeria 
pygmaea-I hope that is spelled correctly.) And it contains the genus 
Gethyllis with only one flower per bulb and an ovary below the ground. Many 
of the species flower without their leaves which follow later.

There are vegetative differences in the leaves:
1)Some have primitive leaves like Amaryllis belladonna, the genus the 
family is named after.
2)Some have leaves that are pressed to the earth like some Brunsvigia.
3)Some have spiral leaves that conserve water like some Gethyllis

Except for Cyrtanthus (and in this she is talking about the South African 
Amaryllids) which have winged dry seeds, they have fleshy seeds that can't 
be stored. Some have flower heads that break off and tumble around 
dispersing the seeds. (Note from MS-We saw these saved as floral 
decorations.) Some like Crinum have huge fruits. Some capsules do not dry 
out much and drop their seeds near their parent. Haemanthus has nice fleshy 
red berries with an alkaloid substance that may deter birds from eating 
them. The Gethyllis fruit is an elongated fruit that pushes out of the 
ground from an underground ovary.

So what do they share in common:
Umbel like inflorescence, naked scape, inferior ovary, alkaloids

In South Africa there are 18 genera and 230 species, of which 210 are 
endemic. They are not all found in similar circumstances. 96 are from the 
southern rainfall areas, 8 are shared in summer and winter rainfall areas, 
and the rest are found in winter rainfall areas. Cyrtanthus is mostly an 
Eastern Cape genera. Even in genera, where they are found is different. 
Haemanthus albiflos is found in cool shady spots, Haemanthus coccineus in 
dry arid areas, and Haemanthus bakerae in doleritic clay in open spaces.

At this point she described the difference between the summer and winter 
rainfall species and my notes are jumbled. Perhaps when the IBSA bulletin 
comes out I can sort it out. Maybe some of the others in this group who 
heard this talk can help. Could it be, winter rainfall plants come from a 
dry habitat, have recalcitrant seeds, and are smaller. Summer rainfall 
plants come from moist habitats, are bigger, and have stomata? seeds 
(whatever that is). I think this is correct because there was a discussion 
about Crinum and how it was from a summer rainfall area and how it has very 
large leaves and a lot of them and a prolonged growth period when it was 
warm. The winter rainfall species that are growing in areas with less 
rainfall grow in cooler temperatures and bloom in fall when their seeds are 
likely to have the rainfall they need to allow them to grow. These 
recalcitrant seeds need moisture right away or they will shrivel and be lost.

Now this is the sad part.
59 out of 210 species are threatened.
58 are near threatened.
51% are Red Data listed.
Threats are plant collectors, habitat loss caused by invasive plants and 
agriculture mostly, and trade which means plants dug because they are used 
medicinally or as poisons.

Conservation by cultivation is complicated by factors that limit their ease 
of cultivation. These factors are:
Self incompatibility
Need for a large space to grow them
Disease susceptibility
Diversity of cultural requirements

The good news is that new species continue to be found.

As a postscript to this message there was an announcement in our packet of 
a new book in the works (probably 2 volumes) that will treat in detail the 
southern African species of Amaryllidaceae (nomenclature, synonymy, 
vernacular names, bibliography, previously published illustrations, 
description, chromosome number, diagnostic features, life cycle, 
geographical distribution and habitat, history, and notes.) The book  is 
called Conspectus of the Amaryllidacae of Southern Africa , text by P. 
Vorster, plates by Barbara Jeppe. So save your pennies. You can contact Dr. 
Vorster who is from the Botany Department at Stellenbosch at if you want to be notified when they start taking 

Mary Sue

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