Lachenalia from Don Journet

Mary Sue Ittner
Sun, 04 Feb 2007 20:54:21 PST
Dear All,

In 2000 I organized topics of the week for the IBS list. One of the topics 
was Lachenalia. Since the majority of the members of this list weren't on 
the IBS list when I was doing the topics I emailed Don Journet who lives in 
Australia and asked him if I could share his remarks with this group and he 
said yes. He also wrote on article on Lachenalia in BULBS that he is 
willing to share so I'm including information from both. Don has a 
Lachenalia collection registered by the Ornamental Plants
Conservation Association of Australia (OPCAA). There is a lot of 
information to absorb so I'm going to send it in three parts so that no 
message is too long. This first will be background information and how to 
grow them.

Lachenalia Jacq. f. Murray. Liliaceae (Hyacinthaceae). This tells us that 
the name Lachenalia was first used by Joseph Franz Jacquin but was actually 
first published by J. A. Murray. For many years Lachenalia was included in 
the Family Liliaceae but has relatively recently been placed in a new 
family Hyacinthaceae. Jacquin used the name Lachenalia in honour of Werner 
de Lachenal an eminent Swiss botanist and a professor at Basel in 
Switzerland.  It has been represented in Australian gardens for many years, 
although relatively few species and hybrids have been available even from 
specialists. I imagine that a similar lack of variety in general 
cultivation exists almost universally. The most readily available have been 
those sold as "Soldier Boys". The commonly available bulbs include 
Lachenalia aloides 'Quadricolor', L. aloides 'Aurea', L. bulbifera (syn. L 
pendula), L. contaminata (often wrongly called L. bachmannii), L. mutabilis 
and L. pallida. A few other species have been sometimes available from bulb 
nurseries and specialists. I am aware of two other collections the major 
one being that at the National Botanic Gardens of South Africa under the 
care of the eminent horticulturist Graham Duncan and the other was that of 
Trevor S. Crosby in England. One of the specialist nurseries from whence a 
good number of my plants originated was The Botanist Nursery in Sydney 
owned and run by Bruce Knight. I also obtained seed from the now closed 
Rust-en-Vrede Nursery in South Africa.

Lachenalia occur predominantly in the winter-rainfall districts of southern 
Africa, with the majority of species coming from western and south-western 
Cape. Recently, a number of new species have been found in the southern 
Namaqualand area. Other species occur as far afield as the Transkei, 
south-western Orange Free State and across the southern parts of Namibia to 
the north. The primary flower colour of different species ranges from white 
through yellows, oranges, reds, purples and violets to blue. In many 
flowers the colour combinations are quite complex, making descriptions 
difficult. Some have very strongly contrasting colours such as yellow with
purple tips or white with magenta tips. Others  are delicate shades of 
pink, yellow, lilac, green or magenta.

In their native southern Africa Lachenalia are to be found growing in a 
range of climatic conditions and soils from almost pure sand to heavy clay; 
from humus rich to mineral rich; and from dry to seasonally inundated. 
Fortunately they seem to be quite accommodating provided certain rules are 
observed. Those that grow in dry sandy areas do not like to be kept very 
wet and those from heavy moist soils do not like to find themselves 
completely dry out mid season. The answer seems to be to maintain a happy 
medium and perhaps to give one or two species special attention. If a 
well-drained growing medium is used and regular watering carried out during 
the growing season most species will reward the grower with delightful 
flowers and either seed or small bulbs or both.

As I have a collection of some 90 different species, hybrids, cultivars and 
variations I find it necessary to keep the majority in pots. This enables 
me to keep the bulbs dry in summer when other plants need watering and to 
be placed in suitably protected areas of the garden in winter when they 
require good growing conditions.  I live in south-eastern Australia in the 
state of Victoria about 32 miles (50km) west of Melbourne at the base of 
the Great Dividing Range. The grid reference is 144 25 E and 37 40 S and 
the USDA hardiness rating would be probably closest to 9b. We occasionally 
get winter temperatures down to -5C (23F) and summer temperatures can 
exceed 40C (104F) for several consecutive days. I must emphasise that the 
minimum temperature is only sustained for a short period usually just 
before dawn but we can get sub zero temperatures for the best part of the 
night. We certainly do not suffer from frozen ground and the ice on puddles 
lasts for a short time only as the temperature soon rises above freezing. 
To protect my Lachenalia I position them under the north-eastern and 
northern overhang of Eucalyptus trees where they will get full winter 
sunlight but ice crystals formed in the air will not fall on their leaves. 
There is no question that the plants experience temperatures below freezing 
but they all seem to survive. I do try to avoid watering the pots in the 
evening when there is a forecast of frost.

The growing medium that I use for mature bulbs is based upon a soil-less 
potting mix obtained locally consisting of aged ground pine bark to which 
has been added course sand. To 6 parts of the basic mix I add 6 parts of 
course sand, 2 parts of clay loam and 2 parts of well-rotted cow manure. A 
small quantity, about one quarter of a part each of dolomite and blood and 
bone are added. The intention here is to add material that will tend to 
stop the mixture becoming too acid that is keep the pH figure up and add 
slow release fertilizer to sustain healthy growth over the long season. For 
species that require better drainage I double or in some cases treble the 
amount of course sand. Another technique I have used for bulbs that seem 
prone to rotting is to place the bulbs in pure sand above the regular 
potting mix. The roots find their way through the sand and into the more 
nutrient rich mix below. This way the proportion of air around the bulbs is 
increased and risk of rotting reduced. A potentially serious problem 
arising after the dormant period is the difficulty experienced rewetting 
the soil-less potting mixes. The clay loam is added in an attempt to buffer 
the mix against low pH values and to enable the potting mix to rewet after 
the dormant period. In particularly dry years I am suspicious that I have 
lost collection material simply because the bulbs have never received 
enough moisture to begin growth or sustain growth for a long enough period.

More information about the pbs mailing list