Generally, by the time I have had a plant for a couple of years, I am fairly sure of what it needs to grow and bloom successfully. Either that, or I have killed it and am sure of what was not successful. Behria tenuiflora is currently flowering for the first time in my collection, and not only do I not have any idea what induced it to flower, I’m not really sure what caused it to grow.
B. tenuiflora is a small bulb native to the southern end of the Baja California peninsula. It was once included in the onion family, Alliaceae, but more recently has been classified in the Themidaceae, a small family of bulbous plants from Mexico and the southern United States . Its closest relative is the Mexican Bessera elegans (see entry 2 of Six on Saturday #8), which is commonly available from the big bulb vendors and seems relatively easy to grow as a potted plant in this climate. On the basis of my success with Bessera elegans, I leapt at the chance to purchase a seed-grown corm of Behria tenuiflora from Telos Rare Bulbs in 2016.
Based on what I had read about the plant, I expected it to be a summer grower–its habitat supposedly receives most of its rain in the summer monsoon–and its growth in 2016 supported that supposition. It started growing later than my Bessera plants and went dormant later, but it definitely grew in late summer. However, it did not bloom that year.
In 2017, it didn’t sprout, and at the end of the summer I unpotted it, expecting to find it dead. Instead, the corm seemed perfectly healthy, just dormant. The same thing happened in 2018. In winter 2018-2019, I tried giving it a few light waterings to see if it wanted to be a winter grower. No, it didn’t.
This summer, I put it outside yet again. Surprisingly, a single cylindrical leaf sprouted in July, and it has now rewarded me with its bright, candy-like flowers. Judging by their shape and color, they are surely pollinated by hummingbirds.
I am not certain what caused it to grow and bloom this year. My best guess–and this is only a guess–is that the growth is a response to moving it from a terracotta pot to a plastic pot this spring. Behria tenuiflora comes from an arid environment with irregular rain, so I had assumed that it would grow best in soil that dried rapidly. But perhaps it is adapted to remain dormant after intermittent showers and to grow only when significant rainfall occurs and the soil will likely remain moist long enough for the plant to complete its growth cycle. The more constant moisture in a plastic pot might be what it needed in order to break dormancy.
I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens next year.
Gándara, E., Sosa, V., and León De La Luz, J. (2009). Morphological and Molecular evidence in the delimination of Behria and Bessera, two genera of the Milla complex (Themidaceae). Bol. Soc. Bot. Méx. 85: 113-124