UPDATE: I have gotten a lot of inquiries lately about the availability of the South African spiral-leaved bulbs including Trachyandra and Albuca. While I do have a few of these specimens in my personal collection, I do not grow or sell them because they are extremely labor intensive to propagate and take many years to reach flowering size. You can regularly find specimens from various sellers on eBay, which is where I got mine, but they often command high prices, so be warned! If you are feeling exceptionally skilled, you can try your hand at growing these plants from seeds although, as mentioned, it will be years before you have a mature, flowering plant. Try here or here for seeds, which often sell out quickly.
Hope that helps and thanks for visiting!
When I wrote last week about what it is I love about plants, it all boiled down to the fact that plants are diverse. They come in every color, size and shape. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce a new feature called Friday Flowers & Foliage, where each week I choose a theme and explore various examples throughout the plant kingdom. For our kick-off week, I’ve chosen to examine plants whose foliage exhibits a peculiar characteristic: that is, the tendency to twirl. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my own head of curls since the beginning, but there’s no arguing these spiral specimens are something to marvel at.
Juncus effusus, also known as corkscrew rush, is a water-loving perennial and makes a good container or houseplant. There are a number of cultivars whose stems form beautiful, tight corkscrews including ‘Unicorn’, ‘Spiralis’, ‘Curly Wurly’ ‘Twisted Arrows’ and ‘Big Twist,’ in addition to at least two variegated varieties: ‘Lemon Twist’ and ‘Frenzy’. If, after reading this post, you decide to give your garden a little twist, Juncus will be the plant that is easiest to come by and to grow.
Albuca sp. are caudiciform members of the Asparagaceae family, native to South Africa (all the weirdest plants come from South Africa, don’t they?). These winter-growing bulbs produce small, bell-shaped flowers, but it’s the unusual foliage of some of their members that sets them apart. A. spiralis and A. namaquensis both produce exotic, curled leaves, wound more tightly at their tips rather than along their length. The two species are very similar in appearance, but there are a few distinct differences. Most notably, the flowers of A. spiralis produce a sweet, buttery vanilla scent, while the leaves of A. namaquensis are covered with fine hairs. A third species, A. concordiana, also produces this strange foliage. Note that the degree of curling varies between individuals and appears to be at least in part related to environment, be it light, heat or something else all together.
Trachyandra is a genus of plants similar to Albuca, both bulbs belonging to the order Asparagales and both native to South Africa. And, like Albuca, some Trachyandra produce transfixingly tortuous foliage, like the unidentified species pictured above.
Yet more natives to the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Cyrtanthus smithiae, C. helictus and C. spiralis (above left) are relatives of Albuca and Trachyandra who produce beautiful, tubular amaryllis-esque flowers and an interesting array of twisted foliage. And speaking of amaryllis, Gethyllis linearis (above right) produces large, fragrant white flowers just in time for Christmas. True plant geeks, how about growing one of these bulbs for your table this year? You’re guaranteed to have the rarest, most interesting centerpiece around.
It has been suggested that cases of naturally curled leaves are an adaptation in response to hot climates, where having a spiral leaf reduces surface area that is exposed to the sun. Whatever the reason for them, though, these species are truly unique and highly sought-after by collectors. And for the rest of us, they’re pretty cool, too.