Albuca is a genus of more than 100 species belonging to the Hyacinthaceae family, occurring mostly in southern Africa. This genus is apparently most closely related to Ornithogalum. APGIII includes this genus in the Asparagaceae family. In the current classification scheme, Albuca has a well-defined green or brownish median longitudinal band on the outer surface of each tepal and a concentration of 3-5 veins along the midline.
In J. Manning, P. Goldblatt & M.F. Fay, "A revised generic synopsis of Hyacinthaceae in sub-Saharan Africa, including new combinations and the new tribe Pseudoprospereae", Edinburgh Journal of Botany 60(3): 533-568 (2004) the authors propose sinking Albuca along with Dipcadi, Galtonia, Neopatersonia, and Pseudogaltonia into Ornithogalum.
In "A molecular phylogeny and a revised classification of Ornithogaloideae (Hyacinthaceae) based on an analysis of four plastid DNA regions" written by John C. Manning, Félix Forest, Dion S. Devey, Michael F. Fay & Peter Goldblatt in TAXON 58 (1), February 2009: 1-107, this subject is again addressed. Three clades are identified. Clade A is recognized as the genus Albuca with a well-defined green or brownish median longitudinal band on the outer surface of each tepal and a concentration of 3-5 veins along the midline. Clade B comprises the genera Dipcadi and Pseudogaltonia. Clade C is the genus Ornithogalum and includes Galtonia and Neopatersonia, these genera have uniformly colored tepals with at the most a narrow or indistinct darker band without the veins. This means that species that were previously considered to belong in Ornithogalum are now included in Albuca and vice versa. We will be gradually changing the wiki pages to reflect these changes, but keeping the synonyms as plants will still be found in books and in the trade under their previous names.
All Albuca species grow from bulbs, and most have a dormancy period after flowering whereby they lose their leaves (although in cultivation, some species do not lose their leaves during dormancy). The flower scape is unbranched, like almost all Hyacinthaceae. Most species only produce one scape per growing season, although some, such as Albuca flaccida and Albuca maxima, may produce two or more; the tropical African species may produce scape after scape after scape in optimal conditions. The majority of species are winter-growers, mainly originating from the southwest Cape and northwards into Namaqualand, South Africa. The genus also extends into tropical Africa and Arabia, where there are comparatively fewer species.
There are two types of flowers in the genus, the upward facing variety and the nodding or pendent variety. The tropical African species, on the other hand, have flowers on such short pedicels that the only position they can hold is sideways. The flower colors range from white and yellow through to green, but are usually embellished with a green stripe down the middle of each outer tepal. In some species, all the tepals open broadly and in others, the outer tepals will more or less open, while the inner ones remain closed, latched together at the tips by an intricate system of hairs and hooks. In some species, the tips of the inner tepals are sometimes colored differently, either with white or bright yellow. Although there is not a great diversity in the shape of the flowers, there is however a fascinating range of leaf forms. Some species do admittedly have rather uninteresting foliage, others have such unusual leaves that they could be grown as a foliage plant in their own right. Leaves can be boat-shaped, coiled into corkscrew shapes, or narrow and wavy like a slithering snake. Some of the above information and information about the species was furnished by Julian Slade in his Introduction to the Pacific Bulb Society topic of the week on Albuca in July 2003.
Albuca can be forgiving and seems to be tougher than other desert South African plants. All species want a well-drained mix and most should be grown in full sun. There are some exceptions and the habitat of those species should be studied for successful cultivation. Many South African and especially tropical African species are not frost hardy and can be severely damaged by a light frost. They should be protected if frost is expected. Two clones are often necessary to produce seeds but exceptions such as Albuca spiralis do exist. In the event that only a single clone exists, seeds can be made by microwaving the pollen for 15-20 seconds, then mixing with fresh pollen and applied twice a day to the pistil for several days. Because most species rarely produce offsets, growing from seed is the best way to increase stocks, and is usually the only way to obtain most species. All species, however, are easily raised from seed, sown at about the same time adult plants come into active growth. Fresh seed often germinates within a week of sowing, often with 100% germination. The seed is short lived however and probably needs to be started within six months for good germination. Seedlings usually flower in their third year.
For photos and information on species select the appropriate wiki page:
or click on the name in the table below: