Veltheimia capensis

The larger of my two Veltheimia capensis bulbs

Happy holidays to all of this blog’s readers and, more specifically, Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate tomorrow.

Blooming in my greenhouse, just in time to decorate a table in somewhat nontraditional fashion, are two bulbs of Veltheimia capensis, the sand lily.   Veltheimia is a genus in the Hyacinthaceae (hyacinth family) consisting of two species native to South Africa. V. capensis grows in arid habitat from the southern and southwestern Cape northwards to Namibia.  The second species, V. bracteata (forest lily) grows in the eastern cape.

My smaller bulb has more yellow at the flower tips.

V. capensis has a large bulb that often grows partially exposed.  In my greenhouse, the plants do well in terracotta pots with the neck and about 1/4 of the bulb above the surface of a well-drained mix of sand, stalite, and a little commercial potting soil.  The grey-green glaucous leaves frequently have undulate or crisped margins, adding to their beauty, but in common with some other winter-growing South African bulbs, the foliage has a tendency to wilt in hot sun.  V. capensis doesn’t want to grow in shade, though, so the trick is to give it as much light as possible while keeping the foliage cool.  During the summer, after the foliage dies back, I keep the bulbs bone dry.

Veltheimia bracteata

While V. capensis has glaucous foliage, presumably for protection in direct sunlight, V. bracteata has shiny green foliage.  The leaves of both species often have undulate or crisped margins. Compared to its sister species, V. bracteata seems to be more tolerant of shade and moisture during the summer.

The flowers of both species are variable, and hybrids have also been produced in cultivation, adding to the range of colors.  The extensive yellow color at the tips of the flowers on my smaller V. capensis makes me wonder if it is of hybrid origin.

Clusia orthoneura, or The Plant That Ate the Greenhouse

Clusia orthoneura flower

Half the fun of trading or giving away plant cuttings and divisions is seeing what other people can do with the same plants that I grow.  For the past ten years, I have been growing Clusia orthoneura, a strange epiphytic shrub from South America.  My plant resides in a 14″ terracotta bulb pan and is a semi-bonsai.  Every year, I put it outside for the summer, where its branches sprout aerial roots that reach the ground and dig in by the end of the summer.  Each autumn, I cut back those roots and much of the new foliage, so it will fit back into my greenhouse.  As a result, it remains almost the same size from year to year.

About five years ago, I rooted a small cutting and gave it to John Stanton, owner of the Orchid Trail nursery in Morrisville, NC.  John put the cutting in an 8″ diameter pot, and sat it on one of his greenhouse benches.  In the large commercial greenhouse, it wasn’t moved every year, and roots that grew down through the bench weren’t disturbed.  Also, John is an exceptionally good grower.

Earlier this week I stopped by the Orchid Trail in search of a particular slipper orchid species, and John showed me his Clusia.

The plant rises about six feet above the greenhouse bench and is equally wide.


Under the greenhouse bench, the roots resemble those of a mangrove or a strangler fig.


The pot is still visible, but most of the plant’s bulk completely bypasses it.  At this point, the pot could be cut away without bothering the plant at all.


It’s almost unrecognizable as the same species as the stunted little thing in my greenhouse.

Early snow

My Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) looks like a bird that has wrapped its wings around itself for warmth.

It is unusual for us to have heavy snow in December, but we have about eight inches on the ground today.  The setup was just perfect: cold air dropping down from the north and moisture streaming up from the Gulf of Mexico met right over central North Carolina.  As the afternoon goes on, the warmer air should take over, and we’ll have cold rain.  Right now, the tapping on the windows suggests that the snow has changed to sleet.

Incidentally, did you know that sleet means two different things in the UK and USA?  My mom, who grew up in England, calls a mix of rain and snow “sleet.”  Here in the U.S., the term refers to rain that freezes to form small ice pellets as it descends.

“Freezing rain,” the bane of our existence here in North Carolina, occurs when warm air rides over freezing temperatures at ground level.  If the layer of cold air isn’t deep enough to form sleet (US version), the rain freezes on contact with trees and power lines, coating and often pulling them down.  Hope we don’t have any of that today.