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What is Bulbine?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2016
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A genus in the family Asphodelaceae, Bulbine plants include shrubs, weedy perennials, and dwarf geophytes. The genus name came from the caudex, or tuberous roots, that are noticeable in many species, although most species resemble plants from the genera Aloe and Haworthia in appearance, but with fleshy and soft leaves. Depending on the species, the plants produce yellow, white, or orange succulent flowers, which are borne in racemes and have bearded filaments. The flower stalks of Bulbine plants can reach 2 feet (0.61 m) in height, making them highly noticeable, as their foliage grows up to only about 1 foot (0.30 m) tall.

The actual number of species in this genus is unknown. Some claim that there are around 30 species, while others say twice that number exist. Bulbine was also once classified under the family Liliaceae, or the lily family. The change to Asphodelaceae was due to revision of the monocot classification wherein newer systems, such as the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, made the assignment of genera based on genetic relationships.

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Most Bulbine species are natives of South Africa and are widespread in areas with winter rainfall. There are also species that are found in Australia, such as the edible B. bulbosa, whose mature round corms are roasted and eaten by the Aborigines. In the northern hemisphere, Bulbine plants thrive in the region of Florida in the United States due to this area’s hot temperatures and dry, sandy soils. Here the B. frutescens species is frequently sold, which is the most common species grown in gardens. Home gardeners tend to value its ability to form clumps that can reach up to 4 feet (1.2 m) wide, which makes these plants good ground cover.

In the northern hemisphere, geophytic species go dormant during the summer, starting late in spring and lasting until mid-fall. The exact conditions and duration of dormancy depend on the species. During dormancy, these plants show no signs of life as their leaves drop off and their roots contract. These plants should be kept completely dry while in their dormant states; otherwise they will die. Direct exposure to light and humidity should also be avoided, though they should get as much light as possible during winter to avoid etiolation.

Bulbines are easy to grow, as they can thrive in poor soils as long as there is good drainage. These plants have to be watered regularly, though caution should be exercised, as excess water can lead to them being unhealthy or even dying. They are best planted where they can get sunlight, although they will still thrive in partial shade. Propagation is typically by seed or stem cuttings. Bulbine plants can also be propagated by dividing their rhizomes, tubers, or bulbs.

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