Tulbaghia

Tulbaghia is a small genus of about 20 species from southern Africa. The genus is very closely related to Allium, and thus a member of the Alliaceae family. Typically the Tulbaghia species are modest, unassuming plants with small flowers, grassy foliage, sometimes with a pungent skunky or alliaceous scent to the robust rhizomatous rootstalks as well as the foliage in some species. A few species are reportedly hardy in the UK, such as Tulbaghia violacea, T. cominsii, T. acutiloba, T. natalensis, and T. montana, although most are rather tender and are best grown as warm greenhouse plants. Many species have intensely perfumed blooms, while at least one species exhibits a foetid aroma. Flowers have a characteristic corona structure.

Be very careful to be sure of identification of any seed grown plants. Several seed exchanges list seed of various species of Tulbaghia that has turned out to be the weedy Nothoscordum gracile which is difficult to get rid of once turned loose in your garden. See Nothoscordum. Sow the seeds in a well-drained mix in the appropriate season (spring or autumn). Plants of this genus produces a thick mat of fleshy perennial roots. Many plants can be grown in a small container for a few years although they probably enjoy more root room. The roots can sometimes completely fill up the spaces below the bulb in a pot.

For more photos of this genus, visit Dave Fenwick's Tulbaghia page at The African Bulb Gallery. Dave is the keeper of The NCCPG National Plant Collection of Tulbaghia.


Tulbaghia acutiloba is found on dry rocky grassland in the Eastern Cape. It has green recurved flowers with a fleshy orange to reddish brown ring and is sweetly scented in the evening. The scent can be carried a distance in the air under certain environmental conditions. The corona is half as long as the flowers and the tepals are often very reflexed. The leaves are up to 4-5 mm wide. The species is mostly summer growing and winter dormant. In very mild winters, the leaves will stay on the plant. It can flower several times a year. It takes 3 years to bloom this species from seed.

The photos below by Cameron McMaster were taken in habitat in the Eastern Cape.

Tulbaghia acutiloba, Cameron McMasterTulbaghia acutiloba, Cathcart, Cameron McMaster

The photos below were taken by Nhu Nguyen of plants in cultivation. Photo 4 shows the extensive root system of this species.

Tulbaghia acutiloba, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia acutiloba, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia acutiloba, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia acutiloba roots, Nhu Nguyen

The photos below were taken by Nhu Nguyen and show a form from Devon, Gauteng Province, South Africa.

Tulbaghia acutiloba, Devon form, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia acutiloba, Devon form, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia acutiloba, Devon form, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia acutiloba, Devon form, Nhu Nguyen

Tulbaghia capensis is a winter rainfall species that has flowers scented at night that are brownish to purplish and green with an orange corona. Photo 1 was taken by Cameron McMaster of plants found in the wild near Napier in the Overberg. Photo 2 was taken by Andrew Harvie at Tinie Versveld near Darling in the Western Cape. Photo 3 was taken by Nhu Nguyen of a plant in cultivation.

Tulbaghia capensis near Napier, Cameron McMasterTulbaghia capensis, Tinie Versveld, Andrew HarvieTulbaghia capensis, Nhu Nguyen

Tulbaghia cominsii is a very localised Eastern Cape species with starry white flowers that smell like cloves. It is confined to a few populations near King Williams Town where it grows between rocks in a dolerite outcrop. It is a good species for growing in a container. It has also been used in hybridization with T. violacea. The first photo by Bob Rutemoeller of a pot in Dave Fenwick's garden and the second photo taken by Cameron McMaster. The third was taken near King Willams Town January 2010 by Mary Sue Ittner.

Tulbaghia cominsii, Bob RutemoellerTulbaghia cominsii, Cameron McMasterTulbaghia cominsii, King Williams Town, Mary Sue Ittner

Tulbaghia cominsii × violacea was grown from seed. This plant is long blooming at odd times of the year and looks a lot like the second hybrid described by Mark McDonough below. Photos by Mary Sue Ittner.

Tulbaghia cominsii x violacea, Mary Sue IttnerTulbaghia cominsii x violacea, Mary Sue Ittner

Tulbaghia dregeana is found in stony soils in Namaqualand, the northwest and southwest Cape into the western Karoo. It has cream to greenish yellow flowers with a cream or brown corona. Photos 1-3 were taken by Nhu Nguyen. Photos 1-2 were taken at the UC Botanical Garden. Photo 4 was taken by Mary Sue Ittner in Namaqualand September 2006. Photos 5-6 were taken by Andrew Harvie south of Nieuwoudtville.

Tulbaghia dregeana, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia dregeana, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia dregeana, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia dregeana, Namaqualand, Mary Sue IttnerTulbaghia dregeana, Nieuwoudtville, Andrew HarvieTulbaghia dregeana, Nieuwoudtville, Andrew Harvie

Tulbaghia galpinii is a tiny species with greenish-white to pinkish flowers. The picture is of a particular dark coloured flower. It starts growth in the spring and flowers early summer. This plant is quick to bloom from seed and easy to grow, and as Mark McDonough said in a PBS list post, "For those who admire small and inconspicuous bulbous plants, this is IT!". The species also produces seeds without needing to be pollinated. Photo 1 was taken by Cameron McMaster. Photo 2 was taken by Bob Rutemoeller. Photos 3-5 were taken by Nhu Nguyen.

Tulbaghia galpinii, Cameron McMasterTulbaghia galpinii, Bob RutemoellerTulbaghia galpinii, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia galpinii, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia galpinii, Nhu Nguyen

Tulbaghia hybrid 1 (possibly with T. rhodesica) being distributed as T. leucantha. It's a grassy-leaved plant, and lots of 6"-8" (15-20 cm) stems with sideways, few-flowered sprays of whitish flowers and protruding yellow coronas. The flowers have a foetid scent. Pot grown and flowering in June and July (new to my collection); photos by Mark McDonough. Please excuse my hand being in the photographs, it's a technique I use to focus on thin bulbous plants using digital cameras not designed for close-up photography where focus is a major obstacle.

Tulbaghia hybrid, Mark McDonoughTulbaghia hybrid, Mark McDonough

Tulbaghia hybrid 2 is probably one of the many forms of cominsii x violacea. It is a lovely Tulbaghia, with palest baby pink blooms and a deeper pink throat. Sorry, but my photos are washed out and the blooms appear to be white. The graceful flowers are on stems 8"-9" (20-22.5 cm) tall, and are enticingly sweet-scented. Photos by Mark McDonough.

Tulbaghia hybrid, Mark McDonoughTulbaghia hybrid, Mark McDonough

Tulbaghia ludwigiana is a vigorous species found in highland grassland in the Eastern Cape. It has broad greenish grey strap-like leaves that are purple at the base and green to purple flowers with a colored fleshy ring and a strong sweet scent. Photo by Cameron McMaster.

Tulbaghia ludwigiana, Cameron McMaster

Tulbaghia montana is a high mountain species found in the Drakensberg. The perianth segments are gray edged with white and the corona is orange. Photos taken January 2010 by Cameron McMaster and Mary Sue Ittner at Naude's Nek.

Tulbaghia montana, Naudes Nek, Cameron McMasterTulbaghia montana, Naudes Nek, Mary Sue IttnerTulbaghia montana, Naudes Nek, Mary Sue Ittner

Tulbaghia simmleri (syn. Tulbaghia fragrans) is one of the showiest species of the genus with strap shaped leaves. Found in the same areas in the wild as Clivia miniata, it is sometimes called Sweet Garlic or Pink Agapanthus. It is sweet smelling and the leaves look a bit like Agapanthus leaves. It generally has light purple (lilac) flowers, but a white form exists, as does a pink one with a white corona. Planted in Mary Sue Ittner's Mediterranean garden where it probably doesn't have enough moisture in summer and maybe too much in winter, it still occasionally blooms twice a year, in the spring and the fall but it has never increased after many years. At the UC Botanical Garden it is treated as a fynbos plant where it gets little to no summer water and lots of winter rain. It grows and multiplies very well and blooms in late summer to late fall/early winter (December in the Northern Hemisphere). The plant is hardy to light frost, although the inflorescence will be killed from the lightest frost. The best growing conditions for this species is a cool summer with lots of sunlight and good watering. It should be kept dry-ish in the winter where it may drop all of its leaves. The species can be grown easily from seed, which takes 4 years to bloom. Photos 1-2 were taken by Mary Sue Ittner, photos 3-4 by Nhu Nguyen at the UC Botanical Garden in November 2008. Photo 5 was taken by Nhu Nguyen of a plant in a small pot. It multiplied slowly but has been blooming reliably for years.

Tulbaghia simmleri, Mary Sue IttnerTulbaghia simmleri, Mary Sue IttnerTulbaghia simmleri, UC Botanical Garden, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia simmleri, UC Botanical Garden, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia simmleri, Nhu Nguyen

The photos below show a white or near white. Photo 1 was taken by Alessandro Marinello and photo 2-3 were taken by Nhu Nguyen. Photos 2-3 shows a very light pink form, almost white.

Tulbaghia simmleri, Alessandro MarinelloTulbaghia simmleri, light pink form, Nhu NguyenTulbaghia simmleri, light pink form, Nhu Nguyen

Tulbaghia violacea is an evergreen plant from the Southern and Eastern Cape. It is the species most often found in cultivation, both in containers and in the garden. All parts of the plant smell strongly of garlic if you brush against it. It also smells strongly on a warm day. Despite this or perhaps because the scent is not as strong as real garlic, it has the common name "society garlic". The plants are strong and can be grown in the ground. It is one of those plants that could even be grown outdoors (although marginally successful) in the Gulf Coast states. It is often used in hybridization with other Tulbaghia species. The often mauve and sometimes white flowers bloom from late summer into fall. The first photo is by Cameron McMaster. The second plant pictured by Mary Sue Ittner was grown from seed furnished by Dave Fenwick and is white (often called var. 'alba'). The remaining photos are by David Pilling of a plant grown from AGS seed sown in early 2009, first flowering in late Summer 2011.

Tulbaghia violacea, Cameron McMasterTulbaghia violacea, Mary Sue IttnerTulbaghia violacea 3rd July 2013, David PillingTulbaghia violacea late Summer 2011, David Pilling

Tulbaghia violacea ssp. macmasteri Vosa was described in 2010 (Herbertia 63:119). It features longer tepal segments than the common cultivated variety. The photos below were taken by Hans Joschko of plants grown from seeds.

Tulbghia violacea ssp. macmasteri, Hans JoschkoTulbghia violacea ssp. macmasteri, Hans JoschkoTulbghia violacea ssp. macmasteri, Hans Joschko

Photographs by David Pilling of seed pods and seed. The coin is about an inch in diameter and the grid in photo 3 is 10 mm and in photo 4 is 1 mm. In photo 3 all the seeds came from the pod shown, but one locule of the three was empty. Fresh seed is very fleshy but soon dries out and looks shrivelled as in photo 5.

Tulbaghia violacea seed pod, 2012, David PillingTulbaghia violacea ripe seed pod, 24th Septemeber 2013, David PillingTulbaghia violacea seed pod and seeds, 24th Septemeber 2013, David PillingTulbaghia violacea seeds, 24th Septemeber 2013, David PillingTulbaghia violacea seeds, 17th October 2013, David Pilling

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