Hessea

Hessea is a genus in the Amaryllidaceae family from Southern Africa. It has 13 species, with 8 from the Cape region. The rootstock is a bulb and plants have two or three leaves and flower in the fall before the leaves appear or with the leaves emerging with the flowers. Flowers are small, star to funnel shaped, formed in an umbel and usually pink or white, sometimes with dark central markings. In the wild they can be found in large colonies as they flower synchronously; larger colonies in flower can be spectacular. Most of the species are pollinated by bees, but some flies and other insects are also involved. This genus is very similar to Strumaria and some people find them difficult to distinguish. Grown from seed they bloom from the third season on. More information can be found in Snijman's Systematics of Hessea, Strumaria and Carpolyza, Duncan's The Amaryllidaceae of Southern Africa and in this link.


Hessea breviflora Herbert is native to the Northwest and Southwest Cape where it grows in sandy pockets between rocks on lower slopes. It is one of the showiest species with lovely pink umbels of densely packed flowers, about 12 to 15 cm in diameter. After the flowers are finished, seeds are formed quickly and the umbel breaks off and rolls in the wind, similar to Brunsvigia. Flowering is from April to June with the peak in May. The first photo was taken by Rob Scott near Springbok in Namaqualand. The next photos were taken by Alan Horstmann. The last three were taken in Namaqualand in May.

Hessea breviflora, Rob ScottHessea breviflora, Alan HorstmannHessea breviflora, Namaqualand, Alan HorstmannHessea breviflora, Namaqualand, Alan HorstmannHessea breviflora, Namaqualand, Alan Horstmann

Hessea cinnamomea (L'Hér.) T.Durand & Schinz is found in peaty lowlands in the southwest Cape where it flowers after fires. It has glistening white to pink flowers with a wine red center and smells of spice. It is one of three species with crisped tepals, but has widely funnel-shaped secund flowers. The other two have equally spreading flowers. It flowers May to June. It is not easy to flower in cultivation. The first photo by Cameron McMaster taken in the Overberg. The other photos from iNaturalist taken by Marian Oliver on the Cape Peninsula in May and shared under a CC BY-NC license.

Hessea cinnamomea, Cameron McMasterHessea cinnamomea, Marian Oliver, iNaturalist, CC BY-NCHessea cinnamomea, Marian Oliver, iNaturalist, CC BY-NCHessea cinnamomea, Marian Oliver, iNaturalist, CC BY-NCHessea cinnamomea, Marian Oliver, iNaturalist, CC BY-NCHessea cinnamomea, Marian Oliver, iNaturalist, CC BY-NC

Hessea incana Snijman is known from only three sites in the Kamiesberg in southern Namaqualand where it occurs in colonies in sandy plains in granite-derived soil. It has a deep-seated bulb and two strap-shaped dark green hairy leaves and star-shaped pink flowers with a a darker pink center. It flowers July to August.


Hessea mathewsii W.F.Barker is a narrow endemic of the Cape's West Coast where it grows in colonies in acidic loam in pockets between granite boulders. Growing to 19 cm tall, it has two to three leaves emerging with the flowers or dry at flowering. The star shaped white to pink flowers with a deep pink to crimson center appear in May. It is an endangered species which is threatened by habitat destruction. More information can be found here. Photos by Mary Sue Ittner. The first four photos were taken in November 2008 of the first flowering from seed and show buds and flowers. The last two photos were taken in 2020. Several of the flowers that year had more than six tepals.

Hessea mathewsii bud, Mary Sue IttnerHessea mathewsii plant, Mary Sue IttnerHessea mathewsii, Mary Sue IttnerHessea mathewsii plant, Mary Sue IttnerHessea mathewsii, Mary Sue IttnerHessea mathewsii, Mary Sue Ittner

Hessea monticola Snijman is native to the Northwest and Southwest Cape where it grows on rocky slopes or in seasonally wet valleys. It has narrowly spreading heads of widely star-shaped, white or pink flowers with strongly curled margins and a pink stripe on the tepals and flowers March to May. The first two photos below were taken by Rob Scott in the Cederberg after a fire. The last three photos from iNaturalist were taken by Tony Rebelo in May, also in the Cederberg and shared under a CC BY-SA license.

Hessea monticola, Rob ScottHessea monticola, Rob ScottHessea monticola, Tony Rebelo, iNaturalist, CC BY-SAHessea monticola, Tony Rebelo, iNaturalist, CC BY-SA

Hessea pilosula D.Müll.-Doblies & U.Müll.-Doblies grows in deep coarse sand in the Springbok area of Namaqualand and in deep red sand along the northwest coast. It has pale pink flowers with a white or deeper pink center and narrowly strap-shaped, slightly channelled, glossy green hairy leaves. It flowers in May. Photos by Alan Horstmann.

Hessea pilosula, Alan HorstmannHessea pilosula, Namaqualand, Alan HorstmannHessea pilosula, Namaqualand, Alan HorstmannHessea pilosula, Namaqualand, Alan Horstmann

Hessea pusilla Snijman is known from only one location northwest of Nieuwoudtville where it grows in deep white sand. It flowers from April to May. The very small flowers are funnel-shaped, glistening pale pink with a deeper pink central star shaped pattern. The 1 to 2 leaves are absent at flowering and are spreading and narrowly lorate.


Hessea speciosa Snijman is native to Namibia, the Northern Bushmanland and the Great Karoo where it grows in arid conditions in deep red, stony sand in seasonal river beds. Although the plants occur in summer rainfall areas, they grow in winter and flower March to May. Flowers are in a dense spherical head and are star-shaped, white or light pink. The first photo below was taken by Rob Scott near Pofadder. The second photo from iNaturalist taken by Conor Eastment in Namibia in May and shared under a CC BY-NC license.

Hessea speciosa, Rob ScottHessea speciosa, Conor Eastment, iNaturalist, CC BY-NC

Hessea stellaris (Jacquin) Herbert grows on sandy or clay flats from the northwest Cape to the western Karoo. Growing to around 20 cm high, it has two recurved, narrowly strap shaped leaves and pale to deep pink flowers with a darker pink star shaped center. It flowers in fall, April to June. The first photo was taken by Rachel Saunders on Vanrhyns Pass. Photos 2-3 from the book Plants of the Klein Karoo courtesy of Jan and Anne Lise Schutte-Vlok. Photos 4-5 were taken by Andrew Harvie. The last photo was taken by Alan Horstmann in Namaqualand in May.

Hessea stellaris, Vanrhyns Pass, Rachel SaundersHessea stellaris, Jan and Anne Lise Schutte-VlokHessea stellaris, Jan and Anne Lise Schutte-VlokHessea stellaris, Andrew HarvieHessea stellaris, Andrew HarvieHessea stellaris, Namaqualand, Alan Horstmann

The first photo taken by Mary Sue Ittner shows a bulb on a 1 cm grid. This plant was seed grown by Mary Sue Ittner and she sent it as a mature bulb to Pamela Slate (USDA zone 9-10) in late summer 2014 after it hadn't performed in her Northern California climate; photo 2 taken at the end of October 2014 shows it flowering. The two inflorescences measure 11 inches (28 cm) in height. The last two photos were taken on the 15th November; the pot is 6 inches square; seed formation can be seen at the base of the flowers.

Hessea stellaris bulb, Mary Sue IttnerHessea stellaris, 29th October 2014, Pamela SlateHessea stellaris, 15th November 2014, Pamela SlateHessea stellaris, 15th November 2014, Pamela SlateHessea stellaris, seeds forming at the back of the flower, 15th November 2014, Pamela Slate

The next two photos taken by Pamela Slate on the 16th December 2014 show a drying flower and a seed, both on a 10 mm grid.

Hessea stellaris, 16th December 2014, Pamela SlateHessea stellaris, 16th December 2014, Pamela Slate

Hessea stenosiphon (Snijman) D.Müll.-Doblies & U.Müll.-Doblies is a species of the Northern Cape. It has deep seated bulbs and flowers mid to late autumn before the leaves emerge. The leaves are long lasting, sometimes into summer. It has white or light lemon-yellow salver-shaped flowers with strongly recurved tepals and two different stamen whorls. Photo taken in the Kamiesberg, Namaqualand, by Alan Horstmann in May where it grows in winter-moist, humus-rich soils in boulder crevices and rock depressions.

Hessea stenosiphon, Namaqualand, Alan Horstmann

Hessea tenuipedicellata Snijman is only known from one location in the far northwestern corner of the Western Cape where it grows in pockets of loamy soil on the south and southwest facing slopes on large domes of a granite mountain. This is an arid area with erratic rainfall and the deep seated bulbs can remain dormant for a long time. When it does flower, it is in mid autumn. It is an upright species with a cluster of shiny white, star-like flowers with a short tube and long narrow, linear leaves.


Hessea undosa Snijman is found in seasonally waterlogged sand between exposed flat sandstone rocks in the western Cape near Vanrhynsdorp. Leaves are missing at flowering. It has glistening pink spreading flowers with a reddish center and reverse, sometimes outlined with pink. The tepals are crisped and it is very similar to Hessea monticola but is smaller. Hessea undosa has tepals 6-8 mm long and Hessea monticola has tepals that are 10-25 mm long. Photos from iNaturalist taken by Nick Helme in the Western Cape in May and July and shared under a CC BY-SA license.

Hessea undosa, Nick Helme, iNaturalist, CC BY-SAHessea undosa, Nick Helme, iNaturalist, CC BY-SAHessea undosa, Nick Helme, iNaturalist, CC BY-SA

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