What is Cyrtanthus?

Alex Tree

Cyrtanthus is a genus of plants belonging to the Amaryllidaceae family. The genus includes about 60 species of bulbous plants and is considered the family’s largest genus. Most species are endemic to southern and eastern parts of Africa, with the highest concentration of species found in southern parts of eastern Cape. In South Africa, species can be found across all nine provinces and dwell in a wide array of habitats. Some can be seen growing on the banks of damp bushy streams, acting as epiphytes, or growing on another plant. On the other hand, there are species that grow in desert-like conditions.

Most species of Cyrtanthus are endemic to southern and eastern parts of Africa.
Most species of Cyrtanthus are endemic to southern and eastern parts of Africa.

Depending on its growth cycle, the 60 species of Cyrtanthus can be classified according to two categories: deciduous and evergreen. Deciduous species can be further categorized into winter-growing and summer-growing species. Those species that grow in winter are mostly found in southern Cape, while the summer-growing species are found in southern, eastern, and northern South Africa. Evergreen species of Cyrtanthus are also found in southern and eastern parts of the country. This includes C. mackenii and C. brachyscyphus, while an exception—C. herrei—can be found in northern Cape.

In terms of physical characteristics, species in the Cyrtanthus genus are highly varied. Some flowers are star-shaped, such as with the C. guthrieae species, also known as the bredasdorp lily, while some have bell-shaped flowers, such as the C. breviflorus. Other species such as the C. falcatus have trumpet-shaped flowers, while the C. mackenii species produce tubular ones. Even the leaves and stalks of flowers belonging in this genus tend to vary from species to species. Some have grass-like leaves, such as C. leucanthus, while others have broad and twisted leaves, such as C. herrei.

Most species of Cyrtanthus can be found growing naturally in its habitat; one can rarely find these plants in cultivation. A lot of the species are not well known because only a few can adapt well to general cultivation. Growing these plants in foreign environments is an exact science. Therefore, species belonging to this genus can typically only be found cultivated by specialist growers who understand these types of plants extremely well.

One challenge to horticulturists, for example, is the fact that many species belonging to the Cyrtanthus genus are prone to the Narcissus bulb fly. This is especially tricky because the larvae can discretely attack bigger bulbs. One won’t even notice that the plant is infested until its leaves die and its bulb shows an indication that it is being eaten from the inside.

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