Calostemma purpureum

Mary Sue Ittner
Thu, 02 Jan 2003 22:17:12 PST
Dear All,

I've been meaning to write about the article in the June 2002 issue of Australian Plants on Calostemma purpureum. Andrew Wilson first alerted me to it, but I get my copy on a very delayed basis and didn't get it until December. I don't think anyone mentioned it on the Australian list. It is a very interesting article written by someone named Robert Gibson and there are also some very nice colored pictures of different color forms and some blooming in mass when heavy rain in central New South Wales in February 2002 triggered mass flowering of it in the same area with Crinum flaccidum.

Apparently they no longer consider there to be two species, (purpureum and luteum), but different color forms of one species, purpureum. The yellow form occurs in deep clays on floodplains and is larger. The purple form occurs on ridges and has a great range of flower coloration. Quoting, "The most common forms have either dark or mid purple tepals with a yellow corona marked basally by six maroon stripes. Rare variants on this theme include flowers with dark red tepals and an almost completely bright yellow corona, flowers with dark purple tepals, corona and filaments, flowers with yellow-edged purple tepals, large flowers with rose pink tepals and an almost fully yellow corona, and a locally common form with almost fully white flowers with diffuse purple pigment at the base. All share a decidedly spicy fragrance. The various colour forms typically form small groups of plants with the same or very similar flower colour, with zones of mixing on their edges."

The article also has information about cultivation and propagation. It says that in dry conditions the plants become dormant and when the soil becomes moist there are new leaves and flowers. This makes me wonder whether flowering could occur more than once a year like with rain lilies. I had understood they flowered late summer, early fall.

Also it suggests that it should be considered a summer-growing bulb since it would probably only survive light frosts, but I've been growing mine on a Mediterranean cycle. Remembering our IBS discussion about this when Ken Kehl had "seeds", it says, "there is some debate as to whether the fruit contains seeds or juvenile clonal plants, or 'bulbils.' At any rate these produce new plants readily and may begin root growth before the fruit has fallen."

The article suggests it is a good cut flower, lasting for two weeks. The yellow flowers have a sweeter scent and the purple ones more spicy.

Finally this, "The range in flower colours at sites in the local area strongly suggests that this species is reproducing sexually. It may be that in the absence of pollination, flowers are able to self-pollinate and yield plants of virtually identical flower colour. Controlled pollination experiments, possibly with genetic studies, will shed light on this biological aspect of the species. From this early stage it appears that there is much potential for selecting the most attractive colour forms from the wild and even developing new colour combinations."

Last year I got this neat url from Hugh Mungus (one of Robert Parker's aliases):…

He was kind enough to share some of his winnings from the IBS auction with me when he outbid me on some plants of Calostemma purpureum (purple form) that Michael Vassar had donated. He sent them in the green wrapped in a wet paper towel and I planted them right away without any setbacks I could see. I still have some yellow form plants from seed Murrary Cubis sent me a number of year ago when it was still possible to get seed from Australia without a phyto. But I haven't had any blooms yet on either lot.

Are any of you in Australia growing any of these wonderful color combinations or experimenting with them and if not, why not? Has anyone gotten them to bloom more than once a year? Are they summer-growing bulbs for you?

I know Lee has them since he offered seed to the BX and I know Joyce had some she got from Telos that bloomed and Ken since he told us about his seed and if Telos had them, Diana can surely weigh in as well.

Thanks in advance for any responses and Robert, I will copy this article and send it to you.

Mary Sue

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