Sparaxis bulbifera, Ixia bulbifera, white harlequin flower, Fringed Swords, 20 seeds May '23
Native to south-western Africa (i.e. Cape Province in South Africa).
An upright herbaceous plant growing 15-60 cm tall. Its short-lived stems and leaves re-grow each year from a long-lived (perennial) underground 'bulb'. These corms are usually 10-15 mm across.
Its elongated leaves (10-30 cm long and 4-13 mm wide) are mostly clustered at the base of the plant. Numerous small bulb-like structures are produced in the upper leaf forks.
Tubular flowers are predominantly white or cream, but often tinged with pale yellow or purple.
The flowers are arranged in spikes (of 1-6 flowers) at the tips of the flowering branches. Each flower is subtended by two leafy flower bracts (1.5-2.5 cm long). These stalkless flowers are predominantly white or cream, but may occasionally be pale yellow or purple-tinged (especially on their undersides). Each flower has six tepals that are 3-4.5 cm long and joined together at the base into a short corolla tube about 15 mm long. They also have three stamens, with whitish anthers 7-8 mm long, and an ovary topped with a style ending in three short branches (about 10 mm long). Flowering occurs mainly during spring and early summer.
The fruit is a capsule (up to 10 mm long by 7 mm wide) that turns light green to brown as it matures. These capsules contain several globose seeds (about 2 mm across) that are black or reddish-black in colour.
The seeds and bulbils can be spread by slashing, mowing or water movement.
S. bulbifera requires a light well-drained soil in a hot sunny position. This species is not very cold-hardy, when grown outdoors it is best planted about 15cm deep on a south facing wall in November. Apply a mulch over the winter to protect the corms from cold. The corms must be kept dry after flowering, at a minimum temperature of 10°c. It is best to lift the corms when the leaves die down, store them in a dry place and to replant them in November. In areas with cool summers the plant might not manage to develop adequate corms for subsequent growing. This species is often found growing in moist or wet soils in the wild, and is more tolerant of wet conditions than other members of the genus.
Propagation by seeds
Sow in autumn in frost free climate (i.e. Mediterranean) or early spring in temperate climate in a greenhouse in a light potting mix. The seed usually germinates freely within 6 weeks but the seedlings are liable to damp off so make sure you give them plenty of ventilation. It is best to sow the seed thinly so that it is not necessary to prick out the seedlings in their first year of growth. If necessary, give them some liquid feeds during the growing season. Divide up the small bulbs when the plants have become dormant at the end of the first growing season. Grow them on for at least another year before planting them out. This species often flowers in its second year from seed. Division of offsets. This is best done when the dormant plant is lifted in summer. Larger bulbs can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found it best to pot up the smaller bulbs and grow them on in a cod frame for their first year, planting them out when dormant in late summer. Bulbils. These are freely produced on the flowering stem. Pot them up when they start to fall off the plant, keep them fairly dry until November, then water them lightly through the winter.
Credits for the description and germination recommendations to ©Lucidcentral.org, pfaf.org