Southern African Ornithogalums/Linda's Mystery Plant

Mary Sue Ittner
Fri, 01 Dec 2006 11:51:23 PST

Linda's mystery plant called White Star is clearly an Ornithogalum, not an 
Ipheion even if there is an Ipheion with that cultivar name. Besides 
Ipheion is South American, not South African as already mentioned. This 
illustrates how giving a plant for sale such a name can be really 
problematic for anyone who is curious about what they are purchasing.

My ability to use keys has improved since my early days of growing bulbs, 
but I still find it a huge struggle. And as I have said before there are so 
many white Ornithogalums (and from other places besides Southern Africa, 
the supposed source of this plant) that telling them apart becomes a real 
test. I have created a new wiki page for the Southern African species we 
already had illustrated and added some more pictures of plants we saw on 
our trip. There are still some pictures we have of all white ones I'm 
struggling with and some yellow ones with green keels, and white ones with 
green keels, and some that may have once been Albucas and are now 
Ornithogalums that will need more research than I have time to do at the 
moment. Those of you who are better at taxonomy than I am and are more 
experienced in this genus and the plants from South Africa please let me 
know if I've gotten them wrong (Julian Slade, Rachel Saunders, and Alan 
Horstmann come to mind but there may be others in our group who also can 
help.) I've added pictures of O. multifolium, a cute tiny yellow one that I 
finally got to see open mid day in Namaqualand, O. pruinosum which we found 
growing in the rocks in what our guide told us used to be her private 
native garden near Kamiskroon (also Namaqualand), and O. xanthochlorum we 
saw growing along the road verges in Namaqualand. It was a large plant with 
greenish flowers. Then I added a number of new pictures of O. thyrsoides. I 
had Rachel and Rod Saunders help me pour over the keys to try to figure out 
the difference between O. conicum and O. thyrsoides while we were there and 
the more books we consulted the more uncertain we became. O. thyrsoides 
often has a dark center and O. conicum does not  and they are not always 
found in the same part of South Africa. So Cameron McMaster's population 
near Napier and the population we saw near Darling are clearly O. 
thyrsoides. We also saw plants in great numbers blooming alongside the road 
in Namaqualand and not far from Vanrhysdorp. Rod and Rachel said they 
expected these were probably O. thyrsoides. I've included a habitat picture 
my husband took showing me taking a picture so you can see how it looked, 
so different from the green of Darling and growing in an area with not a 
lot of other things, not even daisies. One of the pictures shows the large 
bracts and another the filaments. When you use the key in the Color 
Encyclopedia you find that the filaments become really crucial in deciding 
which species it is. And reading the keys drove us to distraction. O. 
thyrsoides has inner filaments with broad membranous wings. O. conicum 
usually doesn't, but filaments that are ovate or expanded below. What is 
the difference between a wing and an expansion I ask? If you look at the 
pictures on the wiki you can decide whether these filaments have wings or 
are ovate and expanded. If expanded then the lower expansion is squared 
above and not curved inward over the ovary. I'm not sure I understand what 
this means so hopefully the botanists in the group can look at my pictures 
and tell me if these are curved inward like I think. There was another 
grouping we saw on our drive from Nieuwoudtville to Clanwilliam before the 
Biedouw Valley turnoff that I was also puzzled about. They also appear to 
have the broad wings.

Linda I hope this will help you identify your plants. Your pictures are a 
little dark so I found it hard to look at them to figure out the filaments. 
For them to be blooming now probably means they were imported and on a 
Southern Hemisphere schedule unless they are summer rainfall species and 
someone else will have to comment on those. Usual flower time in South 
Africa is October to December, but this year they were obviously blooming 
before then.…

Mary Sue 

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