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(Syn. Albuca bracteata / Ornithogalum caudatum / Ornithogalum bracteatum)
False Sea Onion
A bulbous perennial, belonging to a family of nearly a thousand species that are distributed across the globe, with lovely, semi-succulent, elegantly curved, elongated leaves and lengthy, loose flower spikes which are held above the leaves and consist of numerous curiously shaped, fragrant silvery white and green blossoms. Despite the common name, this is not a true onion, but is so termed due to its epigeal bulb which resembles an onion and its habit of producing numerous tiny bulblets that seem too erupt en masse from beneath the outer scales of the main bulb. These subtle beauties are very tolerant of neglect once settled, and add a fresh, refined and delicate splendour to their surroundings. Albuca, Galtonia and Dipcadi were previously included in Ornithogalum.
Hyacinthaceae (The Hyacinth family) -formerly placed in the Liliaceae family)
These bulbs are endemic to southern Africa, where they are most widely distributed along coastal areas in the eastern parts of the country, including Natal and the Cape provinces, extending inland and northwards to tropical Africa.
They favour steep cliffs, rocky steppes/outcrops and grasslands, but have adapted to a variety of habitats across their distribution, including forests and their margins as well as enclosed and sheltered woodland and montane slopes.
There have been reports of isolated populations in the Mediterranean area.
Foliage & Bulb
This bulb is also cryptophytic (during times of drought the foliage dies back).
The bulb has a pale greenish colour and a somewhat nacreous appearance.
It is largely epigeal, with white, fleshy roots and a rather long stalk or neck that emerges from the centre.
The leaves are somewhat sappy, with a semi-succulent texture, pale to dark green, and have a graceful arching habit.
They are narrowly lanceolate-ligulate in shape and measure 400 – 600 x 15 – 25 mm.
Each bulb periodically produces one elongated raceme (600 – 950 mm), bearing up to 100 small flowers.
The petite flowers (3 – 5 mm) are whitish to yellowish-green and have a prominent green mid-vein.
The petals have a somewhat waxen texture.
They have a faint but lovely fragrance.
Globular, somewhat ovoid capsules (8 – 10 x 4 – 6 mm) containing small ovate seeds.
800 – 1500 mm.
70 – 150 mm.
A juice extracted from the bulb and leaves is said to be an effective remedy against colds.
The leaves are pulverized and used to relieve pain and inflammation.
The False Sea Onion is known to contain several biologically active compounds such as alkaloids, flavonoids and glycosides.
These compounds have effects on the metabolism, muscular heart tissue and blood flow.
Extracts are also said to bring relief from acute attacks of gout.
It contains alkaloids which may be toxic when ingested and contact with the sap and bulb may cause a severe allergic reaction.
Care should be taken when handling or using this plant.
The flowers will attract insects, beetles, butterflies and occasionally honeybees, as well as wasps.
This petite, fancy little succulent is perfect for indoor planting and can also be grown on a patio or in containers with ease.
It is low-maintenance and required little extra feeding or special attention.
A wonderful ornamental bulb for the beginner as it is hardy and fuss-free.
As it establishes and spreads quite rapidly, it is suitable for mass planting, and can be used to cover exposed embankments and slopes.
Perfect for rockeries and xeriscaping due to its high drought tolerance.
Can be grown in dry shade under larger trees.
Although they are not the showiest of species, they are still deserving of a place in the garden as they form a subtle yet eye-catching contrast to more brilliant plants and flowers.
The Pregnant Onion is well adapted to dry environments, and, once established, has a high drought tolerance.
It is not, however, frost resistant.
Mature, well established plants can survive occasional cold spells (up to -3°C), but damage may occur if the cold persists for too long and is accompanied by heavy rain.
In areas that are known to experience severely cold winters, it is better to plant them indoors or in a very warm, sheltered position.
A layer of dry much around the bulb will also help with insulation.
Moderate to fast, reaching maximum size at 3-5 years.
Full sun or light, partial shade is best.
Too much shade will result in poor flowering and foliage production.
Soil & Water
These bulbs require a loose and light, sandy, gritty or loamy soil, with a neutral ph., and very good drainage.
They have low to moderate water needs, requiring little to none in winter, but more on very hot days.
Allow the bulbs time to dry out somewhat between watering’s, but give them water on a regular basis, as periods of underwatering may bring on a state of dormancy.
Easily propagated from seed or offsets.
The False Sea Onion starts to vegetatively reproduce at quite a tender age, and little bulblets can often be seen growing and eventually erupting from beneath the bulb scales of the parent bulb.
These babies start to produce tiny grass-like shoots and then finally leaves.
They can be removed (they do eventually fall off by themselves) and replanted into a sandy or gritty growing medium with a little bit of added compost.
Make sure there is adequate drainage.
Keep the soil moist but do not let it become waterlogged.
If growing from seed, harvest these in early spring, and sow into a light and airy mixture of grit or sand and compost (2:1).
Place in a temperate, well-lit area and keep the soil moist.
Allow time to dry out between watering’s.