Ornithoglossum is a cormous genus in the Colchicaceae family with about 8 species distributed in southern and tropical Africa. It is largely found in arid regions and is best developed in the winter rainfall areas of South Africa and Namibia. Flowers are usually nodding, yellow or cream, green, brown, purple, or bicolored. Leaves are linear to lanceolate, usually scattered along the stem and clasping. Species contain colchicine-type alkaloids that can be toxic and a common name is snake lily. More information can be found in The Color Encyclopedia of Cape Bulbs.
Ornithoglossum gracile B.Nord. is found on rocky sandstone or quartzite slopes in the northwest Cape. Plants grow from 2-10 cm and have three or four lanceolate undulate or crisped leaves and nodding actinomorphic spreading pale green freesia scented flowers. The species flowers April-May.
Ornithoglossum parviflorum B.Nord. grows on stony slopes from Namaqualand and the western Karoo to Worcester. It grows to 20 cm and has two to four linear-lanceolate, often undulate leaves and green and purple unscented flowers. It flowers June through October.
Ornithoglossum undulatum Sweet is found on rocky sandstone and granite slopes from southern Namibia to Somerset East. It grows from 5 to 20 cm high and has two to four lanceolate leaves that are often crisped or undulate and nodding zygomorphic white to pink scented showy flowers with purple or maroon tips. It flowers April-July. It is described as one of the best of the species to grow since it has larger more attractive scented flowers. The first photo taken by Cameron McMaster September 2011 near Knersvlakte in Namaqualand. A couple of the unidentified species seen in Namaqualand look like his photo. The last photo from the book Plants of the Klein Karoo courtesy of Jan and Anne Lise Schutte-Vlok.
Ornithoglossum viride (L.f.) Dryand. ex W.T.Aiton is found in deep sandy soils from Clanwilliam to Riversdale. It grows from 5 to 30 cm high and has two or three linear-lanceolate leaves and nodding actinomorphic green or purplish unscented flowers with maroon margins. It flowers July-October.
Ornithoglossum vulgare B.Nord. grows from 7 to 70 cm and is found on stony slopes from Western Africa to tropical Africa. It is the most wide spread species and has been implicated in stock losses because of its toxic properties. It has lanceolate leaves with a sheathing base and nodding short lived dull green flowers, often reddish or purple above with a pouch-like nectary. It flowers August to October. Photos 1-3 taken by Andrew Harvie northeast of Springbok in Namaqualand. It looks like something was trying to dig the bulb up in one of the pictures, but gave up because the bulb was too deep. Photos 4-5 taken by Cameron McMaster near Carolusberg in Namaqualand September 2011. The last photo is from the book Plants of the Klein Karoo courtesy of Jan and Anne Lise Schutte-Vlok..