Gethyllis

Gethyllis is a bulbous genus in the Amaryllidaceae family that is found mostly in the winter rainfall region of southern Africa. It is a most amazing genus as it produces leaves, flowers, and fruit all at different times. It flowers in summer and has a subterranean ovary and thus remains cool and protected underground. The fruits emerge in autumn before the leaves allowing the seeds to drop and germinate at a more favorable time. Some species have a large, often spotted sheath enclosing a tight bundle of narrow, usually twisted leaves. Other have strap-shaped, prostrate leaves. One species has the weirdest leaves - they are narrow and neatly rest on the ground, and are tightly wound up exactly like a watch spring. Pictures below illustrate some of these leaves. For more information consult the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

A related genus is Apodolirion which differs only in the attachment of the anthers. Some feel that it should not be a separate genus, but should be included in Gethyllis.


Gethyllis afra grows on flats in fynbos in the Western Cape, blooming December to January. Plants grow 10-14 cm high. Leaves are linear, spreading, and spiraled with soft spreading hairs. Flowers are cup shaped, white with pink on the outside.


Gethyllis barkerae grows on lowland and upland sandy flats in dry fynbos in the northwest Cape and Namaqualand. This species has prostrate elliptical hairy leaves. The flowers and fruit resemble Gethyllis villosa. Flowering occurs in December. Photo taken by Alan Horstmann.

Gethyllis barkerae, Alan Horstmann

Gethyllis britteniana grows on sandveld or rocky slopes in the northwest Cape and Namaqualand. It has strap-shaped spiraled gray green leaves with white sheaths with reddish-brown spots. Flowers are cup shaped ivory to pink. Photos by Bob Rutemoeller and Mary Sue Ittner of the leaves taken in Namaqualand September 2006.

Gethyllis britteniana, Namaqualand, Bob RutemoellerGethyllis britteniana, Namaqualand, Bob RutemoellerGethyllis britteniana, Namaqualand, Mary Sue Ittner

Gethyllis ciliaris is found on mountain slopes and coastal flats in deep sand in Namaqualand and the western Cape. It has strap shaped spiraled leaves with hairs on the margins. The sheath is mostly underground, but sometimes as long as the leaves and spotted with maroon when exposed. Ivory to deep pink flowers appear from December to February. Photos taken by Alan Horstmann.

Gethyllis ciliaris, Alan HorstmannGethyllis ciliaris, Alan Horstmann

Gethyllis grandiflora grows in, but not restricted to Namaqualand. The flowers are cream, with a light orange center. The first photo by Nhu Nguyen shows a second year seedling with the leaves already spiraling. First year seedlings do not show this characteristic spiral. The second photo was taken by Alan Horstmann.

Gethyllis grandiflora, Nhu NguyenGethyllis grandiflora, Alan Horstmann

Gethyllis longistyla is found in the summer-rainfall region's Nama Karoo Biome. Photo of leaves of this species taken at the Indigenous Bulb Association of South Africa’s 2nd symposium by Bob Rutemoeller.

Gethyllis longistyla, leaves, Bob Rutemoeller

Gethyllis spp. The first three Gethyllis plants in leaf were on display at the IBSA Symposium in South Africa August 2003. They were not identified by species. Photos by Bob Rutemoeller. The last photo also by Bob Rutemoeller is also of the leaves of an unidentified Gethyllis, this one grown by Alan Horstmann in South Africa.

Gethyllis sp., Bob RutemoellerGethyllis sp., Bob RutemoellerGethyllis sp., Bob RutemoellerGethyllis sp., Bob Rutemoeller

Gethyllis verrucosa is distributed on lower slopes and flats in heavy soils from the western Karoo to Bredasdorp. It has strap shaped leaves that are loosely spiraled and hairy. It flowers from October to December and has white flowers. Photos from Andrew Harvie.

Gethyllis verrucosa, Andrew HarvieGethyllis verrucosa, Andrew Harvie

Gethyllis verticillata is found in the winter rainfall area (Namaqualand to Darling) on rock outcrops on slopes and well drained flats. It flowers from November to February and has white flowers. Leaves are linear to strap-shaped, coiled at the tip with a pair of basal sheaths that are white and blotched and elaborately fringed at the apex. Photo by Bob Rutemoeller of the leaves showing the basal sheaths of one of Gordon Summerfield's plants.

Gethyllis verticillata, Bob Rutemoeller

Gethyllis villosa is found in sand or clay on flats or south-facing slopes from Namaqualand to Mossel Bay and the western Karoo. It grows 3 to 15 cm. high and has white or pink flowers and strap-shaped loosely spiraled leaves with star-like white hairs. It flowers October to December (end of growing season) in the wild. Photos 1-3 by Julian Slade of his plants blooming in Australia December 2003. The first image of the closed bud depicts what you will actually find in the morning after a cool change or barometric change in summer. There is no sign of anything the day before, even if you look for it! The second shows the opened flower and the third, a top view, shows the style is bent to the side which is a characteristic of some of the species. The 4th picture was taken by Cameron McMaster near Swellendam in the Overberg. The 5th photo was taken by Nhu Nguyen of a mature plant still extending it's leaves.

Gethyllis villosa, Julian SladeGethyllis villosa, Julian SladeGethyllis villosa, Julian SladeGethyllis villosa, Swellendam, Cameron McMasterGethyllis villosa leaves, Nhu Nguyen

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