Hesperocallis undulata

Lee Poulsen wpoulsen@pacbell.net
Thu, 05 Aug 2010 14:50:07 PDT
I've tried this both from seeds and from one bulb I was very lucky to 
get one year shortly after joining IBS (a few years before PBS got 

I got seeds from Southwestern Native Seeds (they offer it every year) 
and from a guy who sold all kinds of plant seeds out of Redwood City, 
California. (I can't remember his nursery's name.) I tried them in three 
different years and always planted them in the autumn like a lot of 
mediterranean climate bulb seeds, and they always germinated in great 
quantities. Germinating them was never the problem. They would grow 
through the winter outside in our South. Calif. winter rains just fine. 
Then they'd go dormant when it got warm. But they never, ever, sprouted 
again after that first year. Haven't tried again recently.

I got the mature bulb when this one IBS guy offered them for sale, after 
a housing development was being built and the developer bulldozed up a 
large quantity of the bulbs. I planted it in pure sand in my deepest 
pot. (The pot was about 2-2.5 feet (60-75 cm) deep and I planted it 
about 6 inches (15 cm) from the bottom.) I kept it completely dry during 
the summer and placed in the warmest part of the yard, although 
protected the pot from direct sunlight so it wouldn't cook the bulb. I 
let the natural rain fall on it during the winter, still outdoors. I 
never got it to put up any leaves, although I would eventually check it 
in the middle of summer and it was always the same size and appeared 
perfectly healthy. This went on for about 5 years. Then one summer, the 
bulb wasn't there.

It seems to grow just fine in nature in quite a number of desert 
locales. It can be seen most years in the high desert half of Mojave 
National Park although it appears in far greater numbers when there are 
good winter rains. Monsoon moisture probably isn't necessary because the 
monsoon effect tapers off pretty dramatically between Phoenix, Arizona 
and Palm Springs, California. (We just drove back from Texas via the 
Interstate 10 freeway this summer for family vacation and stopped at 
Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona. We learned that Saguaro 
cactuses ripen huge quantities of seeds in the middle of summer and then 
the small seeds depend on the summer monsoon rains in order to 
germinate. Thus, there are more saguaros that germinate in good monsoon 
years than in dry years. We noticed after driving past Phoenix that the 
density of saguaros diminished more and more and finally disappeared 
altogether after crossing the Colorado River into Blythe, California. 
This matches with what I saw a number of years ago while perusing the 
climate records of the various cities and towns between Phoenix and Palm 

I have an aunt and uncle who have some property down in San Felipe, Baja 
California (Norte). They visit there at least twice a month over the 
past 20 or 30 years. San Felipe gets very little rain, even in the 
winter. In fact, a big chunk of any rain they ever get is when a 
hurricane or tropical storm hits Baja California far enough north that 
the remnants reach their area in what is called a chubasco. However, 
some years ago when there was a really big El NiƱo throughout the 
winter, lots of rain fell that winter down there. They went down one 
weekend in the early spring and they arrived around midnight during a 
full moon. They told me that for miles and miles, as they got closer to 
their destination, the desert appeared to be covered with white lily 
blooms shining in the moonlight as far as the eye could see, and they 
rolled down their windows and the air had this heavenly scent my aunt 
says she'll never forget. Wish I could have experienced that.

One last experience similar to all my failed Hesperocallis seed 
germinating experiences: A few years ago I got seeds sent to me from two 
different locations in Baja California Sur (South) some distance north 
of Cabo San Lucas of Behria tenuiflora (syn. Bessera tenuiflora). Both 
are basically desert locations with rainfall mostly due to tropical 
storms and hurricanes that might pass that way. Like Hesperocallis 
seeds, the Behria seeds germinated quite easily with great germination 
percentages, and I planted them in the autumn. They grew well all that 
year. Then went dormant when it got warm. I tried watering them in early 
autumn when I thought it might mimic getting rained on by a tropical 
storm remnant. Only a very few sprouted, but grew just fine. The 
following year, I did the same thing, but out of maybe 75 initial 
seedlings, less than a handful sprouted. The year after that none 
sprouted and when I checked the pot, all the small bulblets I'd seen the 
year before were completely gone.

I'm not sure what these two species are looking for to grow and/or 
flower and thrive. But I must not be mimicking what they experience 
enough or in the right way at all.

--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena, California, USA - USDA Zone 10a

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