Veltheimia is a genus in the Hyacinthaceae family with two species that are native to South Africa. Veltheimia bracteata, from the eastern part of South Africa, is almost evergreen, but benefits from reduced watering in the summer and is best grown in light shade. It flowers in the spring. Veltheimia capensis comes from a dryer part of western South Africa, requires full sun to flower well, is deciduous, and flowers in autumn to early winter. In January 2004 Veltheimia was the subject of the topic of the week TOW on the pbs list. The Introduction was supplied by Doug Westfall.
An article in Flower and Garden in 1980 written by Marvin Ellenbecker did not differentiate between the two species when giving suggestions for how to grow them. He said they could be grown as house plants with a dormant period in the Northern Hemisphere (June-August). Bulbs were best potted in a pot larger than the bulbs in equal parts sandy loam, sharp sand, and peat moss with half of the bulb exposed. Water once until new leaves are formed and then regularly once the soil is dry in the top 1 inch. Rotating the pot every couple of weeks so the plant has equal distribution of light and fertilize every 2-3 weeks. Once the leaves show signs of going dormant cut back on watering. Propagation is by seed, offsets and leaf cuttings. Early August is a good time to repot or remove offsets. Bulbs can be grown outside in a frost free climate, but should be protected from snail and slugs.
Sowing from seed is not difficult for this genus. Sow the fresh seeds as soon as possible in autumn when temperatures drop. Use a well draining mix such as 1:1 sand:peat seedling mix and sow the seeds about three times as deep as their diameter. A topping can be used. Place the pots in a shady spot where it receives a good day/night temperature swing. Germination is the most effective with this temperature swing. The seeds will germinate in about 35 days. Keep the seedlings growing until they go dormant in warmer temperatures (Rachel Saunders, Mark Mazer). Hamish Sloan has had excellent results germinating these seeds using the wet paper towel method.
Veltheimia bracteata Harv. ex Baker has shiny pale to deep green leaves and tubular flowers that are pale to deep pink. It has fleshy bulb tunics and is either evergreen in some climates and only without leaves for a couple of months late summer into fall in other climates. Photo #1 shows one growing in a container in Jennifer Hildebrand's Riverside, CA garden. Photo #2 is from Rand Nicholson of his plant which spends outdoors in spring, summer, and fall and indoors in winter in Canada. Photo #3-5 are of plants grown by Doug Westfall in southern California. Photo #3 he calls 'Fuchsia Pink', #4 is called 'Cream', and #5 is called 'Lemon Blush'.
The first photo was taken by Bob Rutemoeller. The rest of the photos from Mary Sue Ittner show plants with different color variations including some grown from seed from Doug Westfall's 'Lemon Blush' and seed from Lee Poulsen of a variety that was red and yellow.
The photos below illustrate the various yellow forms of this species. Photo #1 was taken by Bill Dijk, photo #2 was taken by Susan Hayek of a plant grown by Diana Chapman and photos #3-4 were taken by Doug Westfall. Photo #3 is a yellow form and #4 shows the variegated leaves of a yellow form. Photo #5 was taken by Mary Sue Ittner.
The first photo shows a bulb already emerging from summer dormancy in late September. This bulb lost its leaves to frost and rarely bloomed planted in the garden. The clay pot is 19 cm diameter. The second photo shows seed pods developing after pollination. The third photo shows inflated 3-winged seed capsules with one cut open to show the black seed. Photos 1 and 3 by M. Gastil-Buhl. Photo 2 of seed pods by Marvin Ellenbecker. Photo 4 by David Pilling is of seed.
Veltheimia capensis (L.) DC. (syn. Veltheimia viridifolia Jacq.) is found on rocky slopes from Namaqualand to the southwestern and southern Cape into the Little Karoo. It blooms late fall into winter. It has glaucous or grayish leaves and is deciduous. Flowers are a dusky red pink clustered in a dense head. The outer bulb tunics of this species are papery. It is autumn and winter flowering. Photos by Digby Boswell (first) and Doug Westfall (second) of a form that appeared in a group of seedlings that was more red in color. This color continues in its offspring. Final photo by Alessandro Marinello.
Photos from Mary Sue Ittner show this species in various stages in different years in her garden. It is being grown in a large pot sunk in another pot in a raised bed. Some years it blooms and other years there are just leaves.
The first two photos taken in South Africa in September 2003 in the Little Karoo and the third taken September 2006 in the Bokkeveld Plateau by Mary Sue Ittner and Bob Rutemoeller show how attractive Veltheimia capensis can be in fruit. The fourth photo was taken by Cameron McMaster September 2011 in the Nieuwoudtville Reserve, also of the fruit. The last photo of the plant in flower is from the book Plants of the Klein Karoo courtesy of Jan and Anne Lise Schutte-Vlok.
Veltheimia deasii pictured below is being grown by Doug Westfall and a few others. Although this species was named by two different people, Veltheimia deasii Barnes and Veltheimia deasii Coutts, most authorities consider these names to be synonyms for Veltheimia capensis. Note that the flowers are petite as compared to V. bracteata or to V. capensis. Also, the leaves are narrower, more undulated, and more numerous. Ten to twelve leaves per bulb is not unusual. In several ways, this growth is even more "petite" than the other bulb's foliage which adds "argument" for those who see this as different from Veltheimia capensis. The last picture is of two different clones. Photos by Doug Westfall.
Veltheimia hybrids are shown below. Since currently there are only two recognized species, these photos represent hybrids between the two species, but could also just be selections made from different forms of the same species.
The photo below is of a V. capensis × V. bracteata hybrid growing in the collection of Doug Westfall in Southern California.