Mary Sue Ittner
Mon, 12 Jul 2004 07:33:43 PDT
Dear All,

A number of people have said I could reuse their introductions when I did 
the topic of the week on another list for the topic of the week on this 
list. So this week I am doing just that and repeating a fascinating 
introduction on Gethyllis provided by Rachel Saunders in June 2000. This 
must be the most amazing Amaryllid genus of them all. Does anyone in this 
group grow Gethyllis? I had promised to share my notes on this genus from 
the IBSA symposium last August and will do that some time this week. Please 
tell us if you grow Gethyllis and what your experiences with it have been.

Mary Sue

Gethyllis are found from Southern Namibia through to the Eastern Cape, with
the largest number of species in the Nieuwoudtville Vanrhynsdorp area.
There are about 32 species, and they are all probably winter growers.
Unfortunately there is no revision of the genus - some work was done on them
in 1986 by the Muller-Doblies, but this was published in German and is not
easily accessible (or understandable!).

The plants have true bulbs with thick fleshy roots.  These roots can be
extremely long, particularly in the sand-growing species, and they can act
as contractile organs, pulling the bulbs down deep into the soil.
In autumn, the leaves emerge, and in most cases they are spirally twisted.
There are exceptions - some species have straight leaves, and some have
prostrate leaves.  Many are ciliate (hairy) and in most cases the leaves are
extremely attractive.  Some species have a cataphyll or sheath at the base
of the leaves, and these may be marked with speckles, they may have a rolled
collar at the top, or they may have bristles along the top edge.  The
cataphyll looks like a slender neck, with a bunch of leaves projecting from
the top like an "afro" hair style!

During the winter the bulbs grow, and in late spring or early summer, when
the rainfall drops, the leaves begin to die back.  For the next few months,
there is nothing to be seen of the bulbs at all, and one has no idea that
the plants are even there.

Suddenly in mid-summer, in the midst of the hot dry season, each mature bulb
will send up a flower.  The flowers are extremely fragile looking and one
wonders how they manage to break through the hard baked soil.  They are in
shades of white to pink and are usually sweetly scented.  The ovary is
inferior and lies below the ground in the neck of the bulb where it is
protected from the heat.  In young bulbs, the flowers often have stamens but
no style, presumably as a protective mechanism to prevent the immature plant
from being fertilized.  There are no leaves during the flowering period, so
all the nutrients and moisture must come from the stored resources in the
bulb.  The flowers last from 2 to 5 days, depending on the temperature.  As
each plant only produces one flower, it is essential that the whole
population flowers at more or less the same time to ensure cross
pollination.  It is thought that there must be some external stimulus which
triggers the flowering mechanism - perhaps changes in atmospheric pressure?

After cross-pollination, the ovary begins to swell, and about 3 to 4 months
later, in mid-autumn, the fruits are pushed out of the ground like sausages.
The fruits vary considerably in size (from thin worm like bodies to large
fat sausages) and in colour (from creamy-white to yellow to rich burgundy).
Each fruit consists of small round perishable seeds embedded in a fruity
flesh and encased in a translucent "skin".  As the fruits are pushed up,
they fall over and lie on the ground.  They have a strange fruity scent, and
are thought to be scattered by animals (perhaps tortoises and rodents)
eating the flesh and scattering the seeds.  Once the seeds are released from
the skin and flesh, they immediately begin to germinate, whether the weather
is hot and dry, or wet and cool.  If no rain falls, the germinated seeds
simply shrivel up and die, but if the ground is wet, the seed pushes a root
into the soil, forms a small bulb, and then pushes up a leaf.  Man has
discovered a good use for the fruits - if they are soaked in alcohol, the
fruity flavour is extracted into the alcohol making a delicious tasting
beverage!  The common name for Gethyllis is "koekamakranka" and the brandy
is known as "koekakmakranka brandewyn".

Almost immediately after seed production, the leaves emerge, and the whole
cycle starts again.

In the latest Indigenous Bulb Society of South Africa Bulletin (July 1999),
Alan Horstmann wrote an article on the identification of Gethyllis based on
leaves and cataphylls.  Many of us have quite extensive collections of
Gethyllis, and none of us know what they are due to the lack of literature
on these plants.  Alan divided the plants into several groups depending on
leaf shape and hairiness, and on the absence or presence of a cataphyll.
One has to remember that when the plants have leaves, no flowers are
evident.  And when the flowers appear, the leaves are long gone!  So a
traditional key using leaves, flowers and perhaps fruits is useless to a
grower, as at no stage of the life cycle do even 2 of these characteristics
occur simultaneously!

The first group consists of those plants with cataphylls visible above the
ground - Gethyllis cavidens, verticillata, namaquensis, gregoriana,
grandiflora, britteniana, ciliaris, latifolia and undulata.  Some have
spotty cataphyls, and some are bristly, and all have long leaves, many of
which are spirally arranged.

The next group consists of those species with prostrate leaves arranged in a
rosette - Gethyllis barkerae, lata, pectinata, roggeveldensis and uteana.

The third group has no visible catalphyll and no prostrate leaves, but they
have hairy leaves: Gethyllis setosa, longistyla, verrucosa, villosa,
lanuginosa, fimbriatula, multifolia, unilateralis and oligophylla,.

And the final group are those with non-hairy leaves: Gethylls afra,
campanulata, hallii, oliverorum, pusilla, spiralis, transkarooica and

The best way to grow Gethyllis is in a large deep pot in a well-drained
sandy potting mix.  They need to be kept dry in summer and damp in winter,
and they are simple to grow from seed.

Rachel Saunders 

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