The genus Haemanthus in the Amaryllis Family (Amaryllidaceae) is endemic to southern Africa, essentially only South Africa and southern Namibia. They are in the tribe Haemantheae, and Haemanthus is very closely related to Scadoxus and less closely to Clivia and Gethyllis, all in the same tribe.
The plants form bulbs which may grow at the surface of the soil or slightly below the surface. Most of the species grow in areas having rainfall only in winter and they grow in that season. The rest are from the much larger summer rainfall area, and they grow in summer. All are deciduous when dormant except for three evergreen species.
In the older literature, the plants of the genus Scadoxus were included under Haemanthus. For the criteria used to distinguish Scadoxus from Haemanthus, see our Scadoxus page.
The flowers are borne in an umbel which may or may not be enclosed by colored upright bracts called spathe valves. The individual florets are star-like, actinomorphic. The fruits are large berries which may be green, pink, orange or red when ripe. Within the thin layer of flesh is the large turgid white or green seed. Haemanthus seeds, like most fleshy amaryllid seeds, undergo no dormant period. Indeed they cannot be forced into dormancy, and will germinate even lying bare and dry on a tabletop. They can sometimes be kept in a refrigerator for a few months and still remain ungerminated but viable.
The hardiest Haemanthus in cultivation is the evergreen species Haemanthus albiflos. Native to KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape Provinces of the Republic of South Africa, this plant grows in areas having summer rainfall and in areas with year-round rain.
The flower head resembles a paintbrush, so this white-flowered plant can be called the White Paintbrush. It blooms mainly in autumn, but occasional blooms may occur at any time in cultivation.
The bulb sits on the surface of the soil or potting mix, and exposed live tissue is green and photosynthetic. There are usually four leaves on the plant at a time. The oldest are shed as new leaves grow out. Unlike many Haemanthus species, the bulbs of this one produce offsets readily.
The outline below is only a partial list of the known species of Haemanthus, many of which are very rare in cultivation. Some of the species of Haemanthus include the following:
© Copyright 2002 by Doug Westfall; all rights
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© Copyright 2013 by James E. Shields.
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The usual form of Haemanthus humilis is this one which grows on steep rocky slopes and cliffs in the Cathcart distict.
The flowers are snow-white. For a close up of the leaf and stalk, click the image at left.
This is the first plant of H. namaquensis that I have seen bloom. I grew it from seed provided by Silverhill Seeds and planted here in 1997. The bulb is growing in a 9-in diameter by 9 inches deep pot in a very gritty mix. The inflorescence is about 7.5 inches tall, of which ca. 2.5 inches is the umbel. The leaves on this particular specimen do not have the wavy edges typical of most namaquensis. The picture was taken on the peak day of the bloom, Aug. 31st.
I am probably not very well qualified to advise anyone on how to grow Haemanthus. Over the years, I have killed many more than I have kept. In particular, immature seedling bulbs are very hard to keep alive during their dormant periods.
In general they should be potted in a very gritty mix. They need a healthy root system to grow and flower, so do not under-pot them. Instead, water very carefully when in active growth and not at all during dormancy.
They will need to be fed from time to time. Feeding with a very dilute solution of a water-soluble fertilizer at each watering may be advantageous. I recommend using an N-P-K formula of 20-5-15, or 20-10-20 if necessary, and always one with micronutrients.
Small seedling bulbs, up to two or three years old, should be given a little water occasionally while in dormant condition. Otherwise they can die from desiccation. Note also that small seedling bulbs very much resent being disturbed, so never repot a seedling bulb during its first three or four growing seasons. It is far better to start each seed in its own 4- or 5-inch pot, and to leave it in that pot, with the roots completely undisturbed, for as many years as possible. Haemanthus grown from seed can take anywhere from 4 years to 9 or more years to bloom.
When ready to repot a bulb of Haemanthus, try to do this just at the start of the plant's growing season. For the winter-growing species, this is going to be in late July or in August in the Northern Hemisaphere. Be careful to disturb the roots as little as possible when repotting.
My thanks to Rhoda and Cameron McMaster for their comments and pictures and to Doug Westfall for the great picture of H. coccineus.
The Genus Haemanthus, Deirdre Snijman, National Botanic Gardens of South Africa, Claremont, (1984).
"Haemanthus pauculifolius. A new species of Haemanthus (Amaryllidaceae) from the eastern Transvaal Escarpment, South Africa", by D.A. Snijman and A.E. van Wyk. So. African J. Botany, vol. 59, No. 2, pp. 247-250 (1993).
Bulbous Plants of Southern Africa, Neil du Plessis and Graham Duncan, Tafelberg Pub. Ltd., Cape Town (1989).
Bulbs for Warm Climates, Thad M. Howard, University of Texas Press, Austin (2001).
Bulbs, Revised Edition, John E. Bryan, Timber Press, Portland (2002).
Cape Bulbs, by Richard L. Doutt, Timber Press, Portland (1994).
RHS Manual of Bulbs, John Bryan and Mark Griffiths, Eds., Timber Press, Portland (1995).
"Hybrids in Haemanthus and Scadoxus (Amaryllidaceae)," J.C. David, Hanburyana, vol. 1, pp. 9-13 (2006).
The Color Encyclopedia of Cape Bulbs, John Manning, Peter Goldblatt, and Dee Snijman, Timber Press, Portland (2002).