Cape cowslip is an odd nickname for this plant, since it in no way resembles a primrose. It is, in fact, a member of the hyacinth family and its sometimes drooping bells remind me of my wood hyacinths. Soldiers is probably a better moniker, as lachenalias do like to grow in close ranks!
Their blooms are about the same height as a hyacinth's but much less full-figured. When purchasing my tulips this fall, I ordered a few bulbs of the yellow Lachenalia reflexa "Romaud" as well. Currently under the grow-lights in our cool basement, they are in bud, but haven't flowered yet. Although lachenalias do sprout in the fall, they can bloom at any point from late November to early May, depending on the species.
I planted mine in cactus soil in a terracotta pot, since the bulbs can rot very easily. However, in The Unexpected Houseplant, Tovah Martin reports that she grows them in regular potting soil with no problems. She describes the flowers' light fragrance as "sugary-sweet and anise-like."
There are well over a hundred species and many types have blotching, speckling, or even spines on their leaves, which can be broad and strappy or more grass-like. I think that the tigrina type pictured to the left should really have been named for a leopard instead of a tiger! Lachenalia flowers come in a very broad range of colors -- even including green.
Because the plants prefer chilly temperatures, under 70 degrees Fahrenheit and down to 50 degrees, they are often grown in cool greenhouses. They can also be used outdoors in Zones 9 to 11, if you plant them shallowly in sandy ground. The New Sunset Western Garden Book recommends that you, "Set bulbs in well-drained soil, 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep, 3 inches apart."
If you want to try seeds, they should be barely covered with soil as well, and will often be slow to sprout. Like the veltheimias about which I wrote previously, lachenalias can also be propagated from leaf cuttings.
The leaves will die back in late spring and the bulbs will remain dormant during the summer months. If you grow yours indoors, Martin recommends stashing their pot away in a closet until autumn. Any absent-minded sorts like myself, however, had better remember to label that pot!
Photos: The Lachenalia viridiflora photos are by Annie's Annuals, the Lachenalia aloides "Pearsonii" photo by PotEmUp, and the Lachenalia aloides photo by 25chat, all from the Dave's Garden PlantFiles. The Lachenalia pendula photo is by Kenpei, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and the Lachenalia tigrina image from Icones Plantarum Rariorum, edited by Nicolao Josepho Jacquin, courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden.