Wurmbea

Wurmbea is a genus is the Colchicaceae family from sub-saharan Africa and Australia. Plants are found in both summer and winter rainfall areas. The rootstock is a corm and flowers are star or trumpet-shaped. Many of them are pollinated by flies and are therefore sometimes unpleasantly scented. J.C. Manning & Vinn., Taxon 56: 177 (2007) have recommended that Onixotis, a genus with two species, be included in Wurmbea. The main difference is that the tepals of spent flowers drop off in Onixotis.


Wurmbea dolichantha is found on sand and clay in the northwest Cape, South Africa. This species grows from 10 to 30 cm. high and has lanceolate leaves and white or cream spreading tepals with a yellow to green spot in the middle of each tepal that turns dark with age. The flower tube is as long or longer than the tepals. It blooms from September to October and has a fetid smell. Photos taken in habitat by Andrew Harvie in the Western Cape, South Africa.

Wurmbea dolichantha, Andrew HarvieWurmbea dolichantha, Andrew Harvie

Wurmbea elatior is found in marshes or streambanks in the Eastern Cape of South Africa (summer rainfall). It has white flowers with shiny deep red to purplish black marks in the middle of the tepals. Photos by Cameron McMaster and Bob Rutemoeller taken at Naude's Nek in the Drakensberg Mountains.

Wurmbea elatior, Naude's Nek, Cameron McMasterWurmbea elatior, Naude's Nek, Cameron McMasterWurmbea elatior, Naude's Nek, Bob Rutemoeller

Wurmbea hiemalis is found on damp sandy slopes in the southwestern Cape of South Africa. It is a fall to winter bloomer with white flowers with purple or black margins and tepals about as long as the tube. Photo taken by Rachel Saunders on the Cape Peninsula near Kommetjie June 2011.

Wurmbea hiemalis, Kommetjie, Rachel Saunders

Wurmbea inusta is found on damp gravelly flats in the western Cape of South Africa (winter rainfall). It has broad sheathing linear to lanceolate leaves and greenish or cream flowers with purple margins and bands above the nectaries. Flowers are fragrant.


Wurmbea kraussii is a small plant to 10 cm found on damp places in grassy slopes in the Eastern Cape, South Africa (summer rainfall). It has one narrow basal leaf enclosing the stem in a basal sheath and white or pink flowers. Photos taken in January near Maclear and Naude's Nek in the Drakensberg Mountains by Mary Sue Ittner and Cameron McMaster.

Wurmbea kraussii, Maclear, Mary Sue IttnerWurmbea kraussii, Maclear, Mary Sue IttnerWurmbea kraussii, Naude's Nek, Mary Sue IttnerWurmbea kraussii, Naude's Nek, Cameron McMasterWurmbea kraussii, Naude's Nek, Cameron McMaster

Wurmbea marginata is found on mostly clay or loam in the renosterveld in the western and southern Cape of South Africa (winter rainfall). It is red or purple with darker margins and foul smelling. Flowers are crowded on the stalk and tepals are spreading. The first photo by Cameron McMaster was taken in habitat in Napier in the Overberg. The second photo was taken by Bob Rutemoeller at a bulb symposium sponsored by the Indigeneous Bulb Association of South Africa.

Wurmbea marginata, Cameron McMasterWurmbea marginata, Bob Rutemoeller

Wurmbea monopetala, a species from 15 to 25 cm, is found on damp flats and lower slopes on sandy or gravelly soil in the western Cape, South Africa (winter rainfall). Leaves are narrowly lanceolate and flowers are in a lax spike, greenish or cream with dark margins. The tepals are well separated at the bases. Photos 1-4 from Mary Sue Ittner from what she thinks is this species that was received as seed that was supposed to be Onixotis punctata, but is obviously not that species. It has bloomed reliably for a number of years now for several months starting in late winter with the flowers opening close to each other, but the distance on the stalk lengthening as time passes as the photos show. The fourth photo shows the corms on a 1 cm grid. The last photo, also taken by [Mary Sue Ittner]] shows this plant in habitat near Villiersdorp August 2006.

Wurmbea monopetala, Mary Sue IttnerWurmbea monopetala, Mary Sue IttnerWurmbea monopetala, Mary Sue IttnerWurmbea monopetala corms, Mary Sue IttnerWurmbea monopetala, Villiersdorp, Mary Sue Ittner

Wurmbea punctata, syn. Onixotis punctata, syn. Dipidax punctata, grows on damp sandstone and clay slopes in winter rainfall areas of South Africa (from the Bokkeveld Mountains to Swellendam) and has white to maroon flowers. Plants grow from 10 to 20 cm. and flowering time is July-September. These pictures of plants growing in the wild near Paarl were photographed in September 2003 by Bob Rutemoeller.

Wurmbea punctata, Bob RutemoellerWurmbea punctata, Bob Rutemoeller

Wurmbea recurva This is a South African species from the northwest and southwest Cape (winter rainfall) where it is found on damp gravelly slopes in the renosterveld. It blooms in spring and has a honey scent. The inflorescence is about 6 cm in height. It has red-purple-brownish tepals that are bent backward. Photographs from Mark Mazer and Alan Horstmann.

Wurmbea recurva, Mark MazerWurmbea recurva, Alan Horstmann

Wurmbea spicata is found on mostly clay and granite slopes in renosterveld in many areas of the Cape Province, South Africa (winter rainfall). It has lanceolate leaves and white to cream flowers, sometimes with dark margins. The first photo by Cameron McMaster was taken at Caledon in the Overberg. Photos 2-3 were taken by Andrew Harvie in the Roggeveld Mountains.

Wurmbea spicata, Caledon, Cameron McMasterWurmbea spicata, Roggeveld Mountains, Andrew HarvieWurmbea spicata, Roggeveld Mountains, Andrew Harvie

Wurmbea stricta, syn. Onixotis stricta, syn. Onixotis triquetra, syn. Dipidax triquetra, is found growing in marshes and pools in the northwest and southwest Cape, South Africa (winter rainfall). It is often massed in areas where it is happy (see 4th photo). It is reliable and easy to grow in a pot in a Mediterranean climate, and is hardy in mild frosts. It has 3 dark green channelled leaves and star-shaped pale pink flowers with a maroon center. One distinctive feature of this genus is that the flowers emerge from a bulge on the plant stem some distance above the ground (this can be seen in the second photo). Photo by Bob Rutemoeller of plants grown from seed and blooming February 2003 in Northern California. The second photo by Mary Sue Ittner shows leaves and flowers in March 2004. Third photo by Michael Mace, showing the corncob-like arrangement of the buds. Some people grow this plant with a saucer of water underneath it. It can also be added in a pot to a water garden and then moved to dry storage in the summer. The last two photos were taken by Cameron McMaster September 2011 near Nieuwoudtville.

Wurmbea stricta, Bob RutemoellerWurmbea stricta, Mary Sue IttnerWurmbea stricta, Michael MaceWurmbea stricta, Nieuwoudtville, Cameron McMasterWurmbea stricta, Nieuwoudtville, Cameron McMaster

Wurmbea uniflora is an Australian species that is widespread in moist to wet areas in open forest, swamps and grasslands in a number of states. It grows from 4 to 15 cm. and has 1 to 2 upward facing white flowers and blooms in spring. Photo taken by Mary Sue Ittner in the Grampians, Victoria. Distribution extends south across Tasmainia. (source AVG Australia's virtual herbarium).

Wurmbea uniflora, Grampians, Mary Sue Ittner

Wurmbea variabilis, a species from 5 to 20 cm. high, is found on sandy flats in the western Cape, western Karoo and the Eastern Cape (South Africa). It has ovate to lanceolate leaves, greenish or cream flowers with purple nectaries, a dark blotch and sometimes purple margins and an unpleasant smell. Photos by Cameron McMaster were taken at Napier, Caledon and in the Komsberg. The last photo was taken by Alan Horstmann.

Wurmbea variabilis at Napier, Cameron McMasterWurmbea variabilis at Caledon, Cameron McMasterWurmbea variabilis, Komsberg, Cameron McMasterWurmbea variabilis, Roggeveld Mountains, Andrew HarvieWurmbea variabilis, Alan Horstmann

Photos 1-3 below from Bob Rutemoeller were taken in the Little Karoo, Villiersdorp, and Middelpos. The last photo from Mary Sue Ittner also taken at Villiersdorp was first thought to be Wurmbea spicata but John Manning thinks it is a form of this species with lighter blotches or perhaps a hybrid.

Wurmbea variabilis, Little Karoo, Bob RutemoellerWurmbea variabilis, Villiersdorp, Bob RutemoellerWurmbea variabilis, Middelpos, Bob RutemoellerWurmbea variabilis, Villiersdorp, Mary Sue Ittner

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