Polyxena is a genus in the Hyacinthaceae family native to South Africa and closely related to Lachenalia, Massonia, and Daubenya. There have been quite a few changes in the names of all of these genera by taxonomists in the last few years. J.C. 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) have transferred this genus to Lachenalia. Since gardeners are still growing these plants under the name Polyxena we will leave them under than name with a synonym for Lachenalia. These are very small plants, best grown in containers. They bloom in fall and early winter during a time when not a lot of other bulbs from South Africa are in bloom except for SouthAfricanOxalis and are therefore very much appreciated. Plants like growing close together and can be massed for good effect, but do not like being out of soil for very long. Plant in full sun, but protect from excessive rainfall, especially when in bloom as disease can start in the spent flowers and spread to the rest of the plant. Many of the species are self-fertile and produce a lot of seed.
Polyxena corymbosa (L.) Jessop, syn. Lachenalia corymbosa (L.) J.C.Manning & Goldblatt, is an attractive species found in seasonally moist sandy flats in the Southwestern Cape. It has four to six suberect linear, channeled leaves, bright lilac to pink blooms with a darker lilac central keel and a tube shorter than the segments. It is honey-scented and blooms in the fall before the leaves are fully developed. The flowers need to be pollinated to set seed, but it offsets rapidly. Photos by Alessandro Marinello.
Polyxena ensifolia Schönland, syn. Lachenalia ensifolia (Thunb.) J.C.Manning & Goldblatt, is a tiny plant with white, pink to mauve flowers clustered between two broadly lance-shaped prostrate leaves. It is widely distributed in the drier areas of the Cape Province occurring in moist, flat areas in clay or sandy soils. It has a long slender style that is differentiated from the ovary unlike Polyxena maughanii. Photo 1 was taken by Rogan Roth of a plant growing in the southern parts of the Western Cape among several diminutive plants of a Daubenya or Massonia species in almost pure, white sand quite close to the coastal town of Witsand. The next two photos are from the book Plants of the Klein Karoo courtesy of Jan and Anne Lise Schutte-Vlok.
Polyxena longituba A.M. van der Merwe, syn. Lachenalia longituba (A.M.van der Merwe) J.C.Manning & Goldblatt, is often described in seed exchanges as Polyxena odorata. It is found in the Roggeveld which is one of the coldest areas in the winter rainfall area of South Africa. This species has two or three long lance-shaped channeled leaves and small pale lilac flowers with a darker lilac central keel and a longer tube than some of the other species. It blooms in the fall. This species was just named in 2001 even though it has been in cultivation for a much longer time. These are small flowers, but they bloom for a long time and are a welcome addition at that time of year. It can remain evergreen in a temperate climate and produce a second flush of flowers in early summer according to Graham Duncan, but this has not happened for this gardener (Mary Sue Ittner). Photos 1-3 by Bob Rutemoeller showing a close-up of one the first year of bloom and more flowers the second year with fingers in the picture to give you an idea of how big the flowers are. Photos 4-5 were taken by Mary Sue Ittner. Photo 4 shows another pot of bulbs grown from seed that have rapidly filled the pot. Photo 5 shows the seeds and pods that as the seeds ripen extend at a higher level than the flowers that were at ground level. Photo 6 by Nhu Nguyen shows the profile of the flowers.
Bulbs grown by Mary Sue Ittner were received from PBS BX 348-20 in early October. A month later they had sprouted, as shown in photo 1, and bloomed just 12 days after planting in November, as shown in photo 2 by M. Gastil-Buhl.
Polyxena maughanii W.F.Barker, syn. Lachenalia maughanii (W.F.Barker) J.C.Manning & Goldblatt, looks very much like the white forms of Polyxena ensifolia and is now considered by Plants of the World online as a subspecies of that plant, Lachenalia ensifolia subsp. maughanii (W.F.Barker) G.D.Duncan. It differs in having a very short style, often a third leaf, larger bulbs, and longer seed capsules. It is restricted to the western parts of the Northern Cape where it is found growing in limestone. In the wild the broad lance-shaped leaves lie almost flat on the ground. Photos by Mary Sue Ittner show the small plants in a container and a close-up.
Polyxena paucifolia ( W.F.Barker ) A.M. van der Merwe & J.C.Manning, syn. Lachenalia paucifolia (W.F.Barker) J.C.Manning & Goldblatt, has two linear to lanceolate suberect channeled leaves and flowers that are pale to deep lilac in color with a tube equal to the segments. It grows on coastal granite and limestone outcrops in the southwest Cape in seasonally moist shallow depressions. Unlike many of the other species that have a yeast-like smell, this species is weakly honey-scented. This species needs to be hand pollinated to set seed. The first photo by Bill Dijk and the rest by Mary Sue Ittner.
Polyxena pygmaea Kunth was not recognized by Manning and Goldblatt who consider it a form of Polyxena ensifolia. However, Graham Duncan, in his 2012 book The Genus Lachenalia named it Lachenalia pygmaea (Jacq.) G.D.Duncan. It is from the Kamiesberg in Namaqualand. It differs from Polyxena ensifolia in having rolled back tepals that make the stamens look longer than they really are, a tube about 30 mm long, flowers that stand above the leaves and in having seed heads which are rigid and erect and do not detach and get dispersed by the wind. It can flower 12 months from seed before it is mature enough to produce a second leaf. Photos 1-2 were taken by Mary Sue Ittner. Photos 3-6 from Nhu Nguyenshows this form grown from Silverhill Seeds. Photo 6 shows several month old seedlings.
For photos of the other Lachenalia species on the wiki see: Lachenalia A - Lachenalia B-C - Lachenalia Species D-I - Lachenalia J-N - Lachenalia O-P - Lachenalia Q-T - Lachenalia U-Z - Lachenalia index