Gethyllis--TOW--Robin Jangle's talk

Mary Sue Ittner
Thu, 15 Jul 2004 14:46:36 PDT
Dear All,

It hasn't been quite a year since we heard Robin Jangle talk about 
Gethyllis at the IBSA Symposium. Robin is young and he was quite 
enthusiastic about his topic which most participants found very 
entertaining and instructive. Below is my summary of his talk. Since his 
speech was published in the IBSA bulletin I was able to refer to it as well 
as my notes.

Robin named his topic, Gethyllis - the enigmatic onion. One of the species, 
G. afra looks like a small onion and the Greek for small onion is Gethullis 
which was Latinized to Gethyllis.

Enigmatic is easy: it's hard to segregate into species and is unique. Even 
though it is in the tribe Haemantheae it doesn't have rounded few seeded 
berries like most of the other representatives, but many seeded club shaped 
ones. It also flowers after the leaves are formed instead of before like 
many of the other South African Amaryllids. (I seem to remember when we had 
our topic of the week on plants blooming without foliage some disagreement 
about whether the flowers were coming before the foliage was formed or 
after the foliage had died down. Remembering that, Robin's comments are 
interesting.) It is difficult to study it in the field since the foliage, 
flowers, and fruit all occur at different times and flowering is brief so 
it could be missed.

Robin attempted to divide this genus into two groups, the afra group and 
the villosa group, based on stigma, style, tepals, bulbs scales, basal 
plate, bulblets and fruit. He showed us a table describing the differences 
in each group. But then he talked about an example where the bulb and the 
floral morphology fit, but the cataphylls and fruits did not. Some of the 
related forms or sports were the cause of many a migraine, alcohol abuse, 
fellow field-worker abuse and loads of foul language he said. Foliage 
varies from upright and often spirally twisted to prostrate, hairy to 
glabrous and succulent to wiry. It's the foliage leaves and the cataphylls 
that make this genus popular and there are so many variants.

Habitats are variable too: deep sand, shallow rocky soils, fine clay silt, 
marshy lowlands, high mountain seeps. What is common for all these is that 
for a genus from mostly winter rainfall areas, all habitats seem to protect 
the bulbs from summer desiccation.

Pollination strategy is also variable. They rely on whatever is present 
(ants to bees.) Not much is in flower in summer when they bloom so that 
probably explains why they are generalists. Since they are scented there is 
speculation that they are moth pollinated because of their scent and long 
tubed flowers, but they are scented in the day time as well as the night 
and they don't have anthers included in their tube, a pre-requisite for 
long proboscid pollination. Finding them in flower to observe who is 
pollinating them is challenging. (Note: One of the theories is the change 
in barometric pressure stimulates flowering, just as it does for 
Zephyranthes and other "rain lilies". In my talks with IBSA members there 
were reports of an odd summer rainstorm followed by flowers to back up this 
theory, but others thought they bloomed without a change in pressure. 
Probably it is another one of those with species differences. The South 
African winter rainfall areas, unlike California, does occasionally have 
rain in summer and this may indeed trigger the flowering of some species.) 
Robin wrote:
"Watching the weather report and making a crazy dash to their far-off 
habitats hoping for flowering and the chance to observe some possibly 
specialised pollinator at work is the kind of stuff that keeps 
psychiatrists in business."

More contention is found in the seed dispersal theories. It was speculated 
that the highly fragrant berries were consumed by rodents, birds, or 
tortoises, defecated, and then continued to grow. But the seeds have no 
protection from being digested. They have a sticky pulp however which 
adheres to beaks and is then wiped off the ground or perch to germinate. 
Seeds of other species must germinate where they fall, which is a good 
strategy since they are protected by the microclimate of the adult bulbs 
with resultant large colonies. Finally some species in the villosa group 
have fruit that pushes out a bit at a time and the berry disintegrates with 
a few seeds released. This gives a better chance of at least some having 
favorable conditions to grow on.

Robin stated that Gethyllis were not hard to grow, but needed a well 
drained medium like other dwarf amaryllids and to be in a cool dry place 
during dormancy. They both rot easily and desiccate during dormancy. He 
made a plea for admiring them and appreciating them where they grow and 
only acquiring them from legitimate sources or artificially propagated 
plants so that these gems will be around for the next generation to admire 
in the wild.

Mary Sue

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