Cyphia is a genus in the Harebell Family (Campanulaceae), in the lobelioid subdivision of the family. About 68 species are native to summer and winter rainfall areas of South Africa, north and eastward to Eritrea. The genus is especially diverse in South Africa.
Cyphias are small herbs with annual shoots from a subterranean, rounded to elongate, fleshy tuber. The tubers may be solitary or offsetting. The stems are characteristically twining, or sometimes erect. The leaves are alternate, usually small and cauline in the twining species, or rosette-forming. Flowers are zygomorphic and lobelia-like, white to pink or purplish, typically with darker markings at the mouth.
Although they are not often met with in cultivation, cyphias are a delightful addition to any geophyte collection with their delicate climbing stems and elegant flowers. They are not strong or aggressive plants and are well suited to small spaces. In containers they are long-lived (20+ years), persisting without any special care.
The cultivation of these plants is generally easy and straightforward. Species from winter rainfall areas require a cool, well-lit place to twine and ramble, followed by a dry summer dormancy. The summer growing cyphias enjoy humid summers and should be kept moist while in growth; they need a dry winter rest. A suitable soil mix for these long-lived plants is low in organic material (10-20%), and mostly consists of drainage material such as pumice or scoria, with 10-20% sand as a stabilizer.
Cyphia bulbosa (L.) P.J.Bergius is found on sandy and stony flats and slopes in the Western Cape, flowering August-November, often after fire. Photos by Dylan Hannon of plants grown from seed, Cape Peninsula: Red Hill, ex Silverhill Seeds.
Cyphia crenata (Thunb.) C.Presl is found on sandy flats and slopes, often coastal from Namaqualand to the Cape Peninsula. It flowers July-September. Photos by Dylan Hannon of plants grown from seed, "West Coast" of South Africa, ex Silverhill Seeds.
Cyphia elata Harv. is widespread across eastern South Africa, extending to Swaziland and Lesotho. It grows in rocky grassland and has white, yellow or mauve flowers. It is summer growing, flowering from October to April. The root is edible and was used as an emetic. Photos by Dylan Hannon of plants grown from seed from KwaZulu-Natal: Merrivale, ex Silverhill Seeds.
Cyphia subtubulata E.Wimm. grows on stony often clay flats in the Western Cape and flowers August to October. Photo by Dylan Hannon of plants grown from seed, Citrusdal (ex Silverhill seed).