Thursday, October 6, 2016

Common Bulbine

Bulbine bulbosa

Spring is here, and our grasslands are full of the new season’s flowers, like this fragrant little bulbine lily. 

This plant can be expected to keep producing more flower-spikes like this one, through to late summer.


Each individual flower lasts only one day, but new flowers keep opening, up the spike, so each flower-spike is decorative for quite some time.

  Notice those lovely shaggy stamens!


 Despite its name, this perennial plant doesn’t actually have a bulb. It does, however, have a corm, with very fat, succulent roots attached to it.

The root at left is of a rather young plant, dug up in December. That little corm has a way to grow before it reashes full size. (Click on the photo for a closer look at it.) However the roots have already stored up a good supply of the starch which is to see the plant through winter.

 Bulbine bulbosa is “deciduous”, which means that its above-ground parts die down when flowering and seed production finish, and the plant then remains dormant until the following spring. The business-like root is the secret of its long life, letting it survive droughts, fire, and frosts.

Its leaves also work to help it make the best of the sparse rainfall of its natural habitat. They are channelled on the upper surface, a design which leads the rain into the centre of the plant, where it gives the roots more water than the surrounding soil.

The leaves are hollow, rather like slender onion leaves, and the plants have been called "wild onion". (Don’t eat those leaves, though. They are likely to give you a severe case of diarrhoea!)
The sweet, nutritious corms were one of the favourite summer foods of the Aborigines, and are said to be the best flavoured of the lily roots.  They fatten up throughout the growing season, and are best dug up at the end of the flowering season. They must be roasted, to make them safe to eat.
Like so many of our Australian plants, common bulbine is more popular in gardens overseas than here, which is a pity. For garden use, the best position for it would be in a garden of perennials where it can pop up again year after year.
It is a colony-forming plant in the wild, and a good colony can be quite spectacular. In gardens, the same effect can be achieved by planting bulbines in groups.
Despite their natural drought hardiness, they looks best if given some supplementary watering during the growing and flowering season.

Annual Bulbine
Bulbine alata
This is the taller of our two local bulbines. The flowers are very similar to the above, but the leaves  look as though they are coated with blue-grey powder.
It behaves as an annual in the wild, but well-cared-for, in a garden situation, it can be a clumping perennial. New plants can be grown from the tiny winged seeds, which should be stored for several months before planting. They are likely to take a month or two to germinate.
This species is found naturally in the Jondaryan area and further west, and is the best bulbine for heavy clay soil.