Drimia haworthioidesis - Cactus Club

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Drimia haworthioidesis

Plant of the Month > Species C to D

by Bruce Brethauer)

       Drimia haworthioides is an odd plant - more curious than than beautiful, that is occasionally encountered in the collections of "cactophyles".  It is currently classified as being in the greater Asparagus family (Asparagaceae), but over the years, it has been variously classified in the Hyacinth family (Hyacinthaceae), and the Lily family (Liliaceae). This species originates from southern Africa: In cultivation, it is appreciated for its unusual clustered leaf scales, which grow in compact rosettes just barely protruding above ground level in my plants. There is some variability in the color of these - grown in  lower light, these rosettes take on a greenish aspect, and truly resemble their namesake, the haworthias - but plants grown in brighter light, are more cryptically colored, looking little different from clusters of pebbles strewn onto the soil; I suspect that a dormant plant growing in a gravely soil would be nearly impossible to spot in habitat. I have seen individual rosettes which grew to a diameter of 3  inches (7.5 cm), but I suspect these can grow somewhat larger. The species produces clusters of bulbs, and may eventually fill a large pot with dozens of offsets in time. This is a fall and winter grower, producing a flush of long (reputedly to 10 inches), strap-like, hairy leaves. On my plants, the leaves have been considerably smaller - rarely growing to more than 3 inches in length. My plants seem to be a bit more opportunistic - and will produce several flushes of leaves whenever conditions are to their liking. My plants typically go dormant during the heat of summer - but may produce a flush of new leaves in spring and during unseasonably cool and moist periods in summer.

          My plant flowered this  year in mid summer, with each mature "bulb" producing a single spike of flowers. The individual flowers are smallish - about 3/4 inch (19mm) in length, and are pale, apple-green in color. Closer examination of the flower reveals beautifully recurved, satiny petals with a slight coppery blush. I did not detect a significant scent from these flowers when I photographed them, and did not notice any significant insect activity around them, so I suspect that they do not produce copious quantities of nectar to attract bees and ants - at least, not during the later afternoon, and early evening hours when these images were taken. Even so, a number of the flowers were pollinated, and these set viable seed.

       Propagation of plants is easy from division of the bulb offsets, and on-line sources suggest that plants can also be propagated by rooting the fleshy leaf scales. Plants may also be grown from seed, however, the seed do not remain viable for very long (virtually all viability is lost after a year of storage). Seed should therefore be planted as soon as possible after maturing. On the basis of my very limited experience in germinating seed of this plant, I suspect that seed should be surface sewn on a fertile soil which has been given a shallow top dressing of pea gravel. The seed should be watered in to wash them into the crevices between gravel, an should be given even moisture and warm temperatures for best germination. I do not have enough experience to comment on how long it would take for seedlings to mature to flowering size - but I suspect that at least 2 or 3 years of growth would be necessary.

       My general guidelines are a good starting point for the basic care of this plant, but remember that this species is typically a fall and winter grower - producing the bulk of it annual growth during what would normally be the dormancy season of other succulents - so while it is OK to keep the temperatures on the cool side through fall and winter (I suspect that warmer temperatures may be better) - do not allow this plant to remain completely dry for any extended period during this time. Also remember to provide as much light as possible at this time - otherwise you risk weak and rather leggy looking growth. Late summer and fall would also be the preferred time for making applications of fertilizer (do not bother with late spring and summer fertilization). While my plant has produced several minor flushes of growth during the off seasons of spring and summer, I am not certain that this is typical - if your plant is dormant at this time, do not attempt to water and fertilize it into growth - the beginnings of foliage from the center of the rosettes will be your first indication that this plant has broken dormancy, and is ready for additional water and fertilization - otherwise, be content to wait. I move my plants outdoors to grow under the sun during spring, summer, and into fall (I grow this plant in a spot which receives morning and early afternoon sun), normal rainfall provides more than adequate moisture when this plant is dormant. If you intend to grow this plant exclusively indoors - allow the soil to go dry and remain dry for a brief period between waterings during the summer months, and keep it evenly to barely moist during its growing season.

       I do not have any information on the cold tolerance of this plant - other than it is sometimes grown as a perennial in frost free regions of California, and the Mediterranean. I suspect that it may have a few degrees of tolerance to frost, but even this is mere speculation; to the best of my recollection, my plant has never been subjected to sub-freezing temperatures.

       Plants of Drimia haworthioides have been grown and traded amongst members of the Central Ohio and Midwest Cactus and Succulent Societies for decades. In this region, they are still fairly easy to come by, and many members of both societies have grown a plant or two at one time or another. It is a bit harder for me to gauge its popularity in other regions, as there is surprisingly very little useful information on this species in my reference materials, or for that matter, on the web. I believe that it is offered from time to time from The Glasshouse Works, and Bob Smoley's Gardenworld, and probably from nurseries which specialize in bulb plants from southern Africa, as this plant is grown by at least some members of the Pacific Bulb Society. As I have indicated from the beginning, this plant is a bit more curious than beautiful, it makes a nice, low maintenance plant for those growers who are more interested in plants which are cryptic, and which provides a bit of growth when most of the other plants in our collections have gone dormant.

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