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.
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.
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.