The bushy bulbine, Bulbine abyssinica, is a hardy, water-wise plant that offers a brilliant yellow display when in flower. Inflorescences with both flowers and fruit have an attractive bicoloured (yellow and black) appearance.
Bulbine abyssinica is a succulent, perennial herb which grows in small clusters. The soft, dark green leaves are erect or arching, linear, grass-like and up to 350 mm long. Several dense, many-flowered, spike-like inflorescences are formed from a cluster of plants during spring. The inflorescence lengthens as the flowers open and can become up to 0.8 m tall. The bright yellow flowers are star-shaped with bearded stamens and mature from the bottom of the inflorescence, with about ten flowers open at a time. The stalks of the old flowers and fruit are straight and project at almost right angles from the central axis of the inflorescence. Mature fruits are black, ± 4 mm in diameter and often covered with the faded perianth (flower petals) persisting as a cap.
Bulbine abyssinica is not threatened and can be very common in certain areas throughout its wide distribution range. It often forms large stands and is very conspicuous during the flowering season.
Distribution and habitat
Bulbine abyssinica occurs from the Eastern Cape, through KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Lesotho, Free State, North-West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and further north to Ethiopia. It favours rocky grassland and shallow soil overlying rock, but can also be found in woodland and along seepage areas. It frequently forms small colonies.
Owing to its wide distribution, this species is suitable for cultivation throughout the summer rainfall region. It is both frost and drought tolerant and can cope with a wide range of temperatures. In dry, hot years, plants tend to be smaller and have fewer inflorescences than in years of good rainfall.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The specific epithet of this species, abyssinica, refers to Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) where this species was originally discovered.
The genus Bulbine comprises ± 73 species occurring in Africa and Australia. Whereas only six species are found in Australia, a total of 67 occur in southern Africa, with only five of these also extending into tropical Africa. The genus is therefore essentially a southern African entity. The genus is characterized by succulent plants with lax or compound racemes (flowers borne on stalks along an unbranched axis, lower ones opening first) of mostly yellow (rarely white, orange or pink) flowers with bearded stamens.
The most common Bulbine found in the horticultural trade is both the yellow and orange colour forms of B. frutescens. Several other species are also worthy of cultivation, for instance B. latiflolia, B. narcissifolia, B. natalensis and of course, B. abyssinica.
This species is insect pollinated and is frequently visited by bees.
Uses and cultural aspects
Bulbine abyssinica is often used in traditional medicine to treat dysentery, bilharzia and cracked lips.