Grow Exotic Flowers from Africa

Who knew I'd finally be learning geography in my 60s? It was never a strong suit for me. Like history, it just never interested me in grade school. It wasn't until I started to travel that I began to peek beyond the borders of my "homeland."

It was in my ever-widening search for more plants that I discovered Africa. South Africa that is, specifically the southern Cape region.

Some really cool plants come from there, and many of them bloom in the winter and early spring. I'm happy to say the Lachenalia I purchased and bloomed last year is flowering again. The variety is 'Rupert', and it's a luscious lilac purple color.

In its first year, planted early November. By Dec. 21,
Lachenalia 'Rupert' put out some impressive leaves.
According to Cape Bulbs by Richard L. Doutt, this Hyacinth relative is pronounced lah-shel-ahl'-ee-a, named in 1784 for professor of botany, Werner de La Chenal in Switzerland.

First its leaves emerge--each as substantial as a leather strap, in a vivid green with irregular spots of deep burgundy.

It was the Lachenalia's need for supplemental light that led me to purchase lighting fixtures. When the leaves appear, they'll tend to be floppy, especially if they don't get enough light.

Chubby little flower spikes emerge slowly.
At this point, these drought tolerant little bulbs get thirsty. I perform two tests to make sure the soil is dry enough to benefit from a deep watering. I feel the leaves. If they're soft and somewhat limp, I'll sharpen a pencil down to fresh wood and stick it into the soil, just under half way. If it comes out dry or with a dry soil residue, I water it well. Although they enjoy more moisture than you'd think for a bulb with such succulent leaves, they will easily rot with too much water.

Lachenalia 'Rupert' grows flower spikes that lengthen as they mature to a height of around 10".

Can Shamrocks be Hoity Toity?

The flowers of Oxalis Grand Duchess versicolor
(candy cane shamrock) are tiny.
An unassuming plant with a hoity-toity name caught my eye on the Easy to Grow Bulbs shopping site.  Oxalis Grand Duchess versicolor  was a dry-looking nub of a bulb when it arrived. I planted it as indicated and waited. The wait seemed too long and I figured it was never coming up so I planted a cutting of Brazilian plume flower (Justicia carnea) in one of the small pots.
Candy cane shamrock's unsightly stems.
How the candy cane shamrock got its name.
Eventually, weedy, spindly stems emerged. By now I had an overabundance of pots in my limited space, having acquired more Pelargonium and a few other full-sized plants plus the Amaryllis bulbs. So I ended up pitching two out of three pots containing these weedy stems that had no leaves on the first 2 inches and were flopping over the sides. The one with the plume flower cutting was saved. Finally, the three remaining bulbs in the one pot bloomed. The flowers were as adorable as shown in the source's photos, providing candy cane color on both furled and unfurled blooms. But there were fewer blossoms, and they were dangling clumsily over the side of the pot. I'll keep the pot after they've finished flowering, let the foliage whither by holding back water. If they come up next year I'll give them more light and see if they provide another crop of flowers on stems less ungainly.

Oxalis adenophylla blooms in 10 weeks.
Silver shamrock, or Oxalis adenophylla really tried my patience. My first attempt to grow these little beauties was successful, providing adorable leaves in a delicate, silvery shade of green that topped stems just 2 - 3 inches tall.

I planted the tiny bulbs in mid-November, and by the end of January, I had both leaves and flowers. Silver shamrock could be grown for its leaves, but its flowers are worth waiting for. Unlike most common shamrocks, its flowers are bigger than the leaves, and painted with a thumb-smudge of pale purple at the edge of each petal.

Oxalis 'Plum Crazy' is easy to love.
The easiest shamrock to grow was one I bought already in full leaf at the Porter County Master Gardeners Gardening Show, held in late January each year. Its name is as interesting as its leaves--'Plum Crazy', a diminutive cutie with purple-pink leaves that steal the show from its ho-hum flowers.

Oxalis 'Plum Crazy' is one tough plant. After making it through the winter as a houseplant, I grew it outdoors in a planter with other residents where it held its own and spread an appreciable amount. There is nothing to worry about with this Oxalis becoming to aggressive, as it is not hardy north of Zone 8.
Oxalis Iron Cross accents this
gaudy Scadoxus flower.

Another extremely easy shamrock to grow from a bulb is Oxalis tetraphylla Iron Cross, or lucky shamrock. I planted the tubers around the outer edge of a pot that held a Scadoxus (blood lily) bulb around mid-March, and the leaves began to poke out around four weeks later.

Give Oxalis Iron Cross full sun outdoors in summer for a flower reward.
Oxalis Iron Cross hails from Mexico and enjoys a long, hot summer, which is when it puts out a succession of rose-colored flowers.

Whether you grow shamrocks for indoors or out, for their leaves or for their flowers, they're charming little bulbs to try and are more readily available than used to be.