Baboon flower - The Babiana Genus

Babiana belongs to the Iridaceae family and can be found in abundance in the south-west of the Western Cape as well as in the Namaqualand region and the West Coast. However, they can be found all the way from the south of Namibia and Zimbabwe to the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.

Did you know? The Babiana genus is a sizeable one, with about 80 individual species under its ample umbrella and is also sometimes known as the Baboon Flower.

Its genus name hails from the word “baviaan”, which has Dutch roots and refers to the African monkey. This primate enjoys snacking on the corm (or bulb) of the Babiana, and thus played a role in its naming. It is no wonder, then, that this is also sometimes known as the Baboon Flower.

This is a deciduous plant, which means that it loses its leaves at certain times of year. Some varieties of Babiana grow in the summer, while the majority do better in the winter. It is a tough plant that can survive the heat of Southern Africa. They are also rewarding for their magnificent colours

Description

There are many different varieties of Babiana, each unique in its appearance. However, a common characteristic is the colourful blooms that these wonderful plants produce. These make for magnificent bouquets for the garden or countryside.

Some have long stems, others short stems, and still others have no stems at all. They are shrubbier in nature (as opposed to tall flowers or trees, for example). Some stay at about 30 centimetres at full height, while others may reach about 150 centimetres. Because they are hardy plants that have been designed to withstand the African heat, their leaves, stems and flowers are tough; albeit deceivingly, since they remain so pretty.

Use in the garden

While the various Babiana bulbs have been favoured amongst monkeys as a delicious meal, this plant is not desirable for human consumption. However, the colourful flowers continue to make gardens vibrant and cheerful, providing excellent blooms for the vase.

Flowering time

Babianas are deciduous. Most prefer the winter months (June to August), but there are some summer varieties too. So, when the autumn rains come, the roots begin to grow, readying the plant for winter blooming. Some Babiana species flower in the early part of spring, while others extend their blooming into the late summer months.

Natural distribution

About 49 of the 80 known Babiana species are found in the south-west Cape region of South Africa, while the others are mostly found in Namaqualand and the Northern Cape. However, these plants are found as far north as south Zimbabwe and Namibia, and as far east as the Eastern Cape Province.

Growing Babiana in your garden

Babiana grows well in gardens as well as in the wild. For those wanting these colourful features to adorn their gardens, an area in which the soil drains well is a must. To improve the drainage, consider adding an organic material (such as peat moss, decomposed manure or ground bark) to the soil. The fertility of the soil is not as important as its drainage abilities. Pick a spot that enjoys full sun and then plant the Babiana corms about five to six inches apart in holes that are three to four inches deep. The direction of the corm is not important. After planting, water well.

Roots will begin to grow in the autumn and the flowers will appear in the winter in most cases (although planting and blooming times for specific Babiana species may differ, this is true of the majority). Water them with about an inch of water per week. While the flowers are blooming, you may want to cut them off for your personal bouquets in the home. This will not damage the plants in any way.

Once the plants have bloomed and the flowers have died off, leave the foliage; do not cut it down. This allows the leaves to continue the process of harnessing nutrients and energy to fortify the bulb for next season. Only remove the foliage at the end of summer, when the plant is in a dormant state and the leaves have died off.

Propagation

The most effective propagation method is planting seeds in the autumn. However, one can also propagate the Babiana by division. This simply involves taking a cutting (or several cuttings) off the parent plant and cultivating that as a plant on its own.

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