Albuca spiralis
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Distribution: Africa: South Africa: Western Cape:

Albuca spiralis is a small ovoid shaped bulb with often spriral leaves that is found in the western parts of South Africa. It is a winter growing geophyte and is much prized by collectors all over the world for its leaf display. The flowers are yellowish, banded with green, and appear in late winter to spring. After flowering the leaves die off and the bulb goes into rest for the summer.

Unfortunately I do not possess the typical form myself and I shall rely on the beautiful pictures from the website of the Pacific Bulb society that are found at .

I first place here a description as found at,

Bulb small, ovoid; tunics not splitting into fibres at the top; leaves 1012, subterete, 69 in. long, channelled down the face, circinate at the apex, densely glandular-pubescent; peduncle slender, 68 in.long; raceme laxly 46-flowered; pedicels cernuous at the apex, lower 3/41 in. long; bracts lanceolate, 1/2 3/4 in. long; flowers inodorous; perianth 5/8 3/4 in. long, yellow, banded with green; stamens all fertile; style prismatic, as long as the ovary; stigma tricuspidate. null, Distribution: COAST REGION Malmesbury Div.; summit of Riebeek Castle, Thunberg.SOUTH AFRICA without locality, Harvey!,

Another general description I take from Manning ( I condensed it somewhat). The original I found at,

Bulbous geophyte 20 to 50 cm tall with linear-canaliculate or convulate leaves often spirally twisted or coiled above. The leaves are glandular-hairy and the flowers nodding, cream to yellow with green keels. Flowering time Aug to Oct and the distribution from Namaqualand to the Cape Peninsula.

I am not certain if the locality Riebeek Kasteel (Riebeek Castle) some 80 km north of Cape Town as mentioned in the first description actually refers to the type plant.

The real picture concerning Albuca spiralis is quite complex and misunderstood as many photographs found on the web with similarly spiral leaves are indeed not Albuca spiralis. One such example is found at,

Firstly it is clear that Albuca spiralis has glandular leaves similar to those of Albuca viscosa. I accept also the colour of the leaves to be green although it is not explicitly stated in the two descriptions above. Notably the apex of the inner tepals are hinged, a characteristic that distinguises it from the similar looking Albuca viscosa where the apex of the inner tepals are simply hooded. Some pictures on the web display spiral leaves that are grabrous and greyish green or perhaps bluish green. These pictures are of one or more different species and not Albuca spiralis.

In cultivation the leaves only spiral well when exposed to full sun, and this also depends on the clone. Many bulbs with spiral or twisted leaves lose this characteristic when grown in shaded positions. Unfortunately it is not always practical to grow the bulbs outside, especially seedlings.


Albuca spiralis ssp. aestivalis n.n. - a New subspecies of Albuca spiralis - Vincent de Vries,

Aestivalis meaning 'pertaining to summer'.

I propose with some reservation this new subspecies of Albuca spiralis. These bulbs I found in the Prince Albert district and growing in summer. instead of winter. The plants were also flowering in midsummer without any sign of the leaves dying off, but I have also seen them in fruit in the beginning of summer and think that the flowering time is perhaps not constant.

The bulbs are ovoid and detail otherwise seems to be similar than that of Albuca spiralis.

The seeds are however considerably smaller than those of the typical subspecies measuring only about 3 mm in diameter as compared to the illustrations on the site of the Pacific Bulb Society where the seeds measure around 5 mm across. The size of the seed of ssp. aestivalis is compararable to that of Albuca viscosa. The apex of the inner tepals are however hinged like in the typical form of Albuca spiralis.

I shall give more detail about the bulbs when I have examined them more thoroughly.

Please feel free to comment to me at . I am not a taxonomist and will regard your contributions as most valuable.

Albuca spiralis Albuca spiralis Albuca spiralis Albuca spiralis
Herbarium specimen of Albuca spiralis and Albuca namaquensis as displayed on the website of Royal Botanical Gardens Kew. Albuca spiralis ssp. aestivalis seed. Albuca spiralis ssp. aestivalis flower. Albuca spiralis ssp. aestivalis flower.
Albuca spiralis Albuca spiralis Albuca spiralis
Albuca spiralis ssp. aestivalis flowering in habitat in February (late summer) north of Prince Albert. Albuca spiralis ssp. aestivalis in autumn in cultivation. This plant was bucking the trend and started growing in autumn instead of summer after good rains. The leaves were abandoned later. The plants were cultivated in the Little Karoo which is a winter rainfall area. It raises some questions to whether the plants are perhaps adaptable to their conditions and will adjust their growing times accordingly. Albuca spiralis ssp. aestivalis samples from Prince Albert starting to fruit by the end of December in midsummer. Indicating variable flowering time as the previous year they only flowered in February.

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