Looking forward to those cold-season blooms, which are supposed to appear on indoor plants between December and March, I started some seeds of Veltheimia bracteata back in the spring of 2012. That was, of course, before I read the fine print and discovered that seedlings usually take three to four years to reach blooming size.
Fortunately, my plants -- all growing in one large pot -- have proved easy to care for. I now have six healthy-looking seedlings, whose leaves are about 10 inches long. I doubt they'll bloom this winter, but maybe next?
Native to South Africa, they are also called bush lilies, sand onions, cape lilies, or winter red hot pokers, since their flowers somewhat resemble kniphofias. There are actually only two species types of veltheimia, though they've both gone by a wide variety of names.
My forest lily (Veltheimia bracteata, AKA viridifolia or undulata) is the one that originated in woodsy areas of eastern South Africa, and so prefers shaded or at least partially shaded sites. Its shiny and wavy leaves can remain evergreen where there is rainfall all year round. Under dryer conditions, it sometimes goes dormant for all or part of the summer. It usually flowers in some shade of pink, but more unusual cream or yellow types are available too.
The sand lily (Veltheimia capensis, AKA glauca, roodaea, and deasii) prefers more sun. Because it comes from a dryer western part of South Africa, its ruffled leaves -- which are coated with a powdery gray film -- drop off and remain off all summer. It revives in winter to produce green-tipped pink flowers.
Veltheimia plants only grow about a foot tall, though the flower stalks may push that height up to 2 feet. The leaves can reach 1 1/2 feet in length and 3 inches in width.
If you want to try starting some 1/4-inch, pear-shaped veltheimia seeds, plant them about 1/16 of an inch deep, and keep them in slightly cool conditions (the 60's Fahrenheit) until they sprout. I usually sow about seven of anything large enough to be counted. (Not because it's a lucky number, but because it's a number that is easy to space!) From the fact that I ended up with six veltheimia seedlings, I deduce that they germinate pretty heavily, though it can take them up to three weeks to do so. If a friend has a plant, you can try potting up a leaf cutting, which should produce little bulblets at its base.
You can get faster flowers by actually purchasing bulbs instead of seeds and potting them up in late summer or early fall, with their necks exposed as for amaryllis. Leave them in a cool, dim place until they begin to sprout, then move them into brighter conditions. Keep bracteata out of direct sun, however.
Those of you in USDA zones 9 and up can actually grow these plant outdoors. If you need to divide them after a few years, it's best to do so in late summer when they are at their most dormant. They may need protection from slugs if grown outdoors, but are seldom bothered by other pests.
Lacking a chilly Victorian parlor, I currently have my veltheimia seedlings under grow lights in the cool basement, where they seem content. They didn't experience a summer dormant period here in Pennsylvania, but our climate -- where nighttime temperatures are hovering in the teens at the moment -- is obviously far different from Africa's!
Photos: The first two veltheimia images are by Kelley MacDonald (Kell) and the seeds and pods images by palmbob, all from the Dave's Garden PlantFiles. The Veltheimia coccinea image is from Les Liliacees by P. J. Redoute, courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
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