South Africa Plant LifeThe Eucomis vandermerwei
The unique Eucomis vandermerwei is a member of the Hyacinthaceae family and is precious, not only for its beauty and unusual appeal, but also for its being on the list of threatened plants in South Africa.
Eucomis vandermerwei is one of 12 eucomis species. Some know it better as the spotted-leaf eucomis or the pineapple lily.
The Eucomis vandermerwei is an alpine bulb with maroon flowers that smell extremely unpleasant from close up. The colouring of the leaves makes this plant unique as it is the only eucomis with maroon spots on the green leaves. This serves as camouflage from animals that would, otherwise, be feeding on these plants.
The leaves also have a wavy cartilaginous margin to them, which further add to their allure.
Eucomis vandermerwei is a dwarf species, and achieves a mature height of between only eight and 20 centimetres. The green stem of the flower can be between six and 12 centimetres high. The inflorescence at the top is made up of a short stalk with stalked flowers on this axis. The seeds capsules are brown-maroon in colour and contain black seeds with a shiny finish.
Eucomis vandermerwei flowers in the hot summer months, from December to January or February. However, even when they are not in bloom, they remain pretty, welcome additions to the garden.
Use in the garden
This protected species is absolutely stunning in the garden. In addition to its ornamental value, they are also believed by local African folk to have a number of medicinal properties.
The magnificent Eucomis vandermerwei can naturally be found in summer rainfall regions. In South Africa, this includes the eastern and northern parts of the country. This reach extends from Middelburg to Dullstroom and into the western parts of Mpumalanga.
It is native to the hills and plateaus that achieve high altitudes of up to 2 500 metres above sea level. It is also found in small, localised colonies in the Lydenburg Montane Grasslands. Winter grass fires are excellent means of promoting the flowering abilities of the plant.
Growing Eucomis vandermerwei in your garden
This plant does particularly well in rock gardens, pots and bowls. It thrives in full sun, or full morning sun and shady afternoon light. They are fairly adaptable, even doing well in greenhouses or cool window sills.
The bulbs are resilient, but do not do well with too much water during the cooler winter months. The ideal soil for the Eucomis vandermerwei is a mixture of coarse river sand and fine acidic compost. The bad scent of the flowers is not strong enough to deter gardeners as it is only perceived at close proximity.
Seeds can be sown in the early summer and watered regularly for best results. However, flowers will only emerge in the fourth year after germination. Offsets are effective means of propagation, but the plant needs to be left untouched for about two years before these are taken.
Bulbs can be sliced horizontally, with each slice including a section of the basal plate. These should then be treated with a fungicide and placed upright in the soil, allowing the tips to be exposed. These can be removed and repotted at the beginning of the next season. In addition to these methods, leaf cuttings and tissue cultures are also excellent ways of propagating the Eucomis vandermerwei.
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