Albuca National Plant Collection® at Hillview

We have held the National Plant Collection® of Albuca for a number of years now.

Albuca is a genus of flowering plants in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Scilloideae. The genus is distributed mainly in Southern and Eastern Africa, with some species occurring in Northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Plants of the genus are known commonly as ”Slime Lilies”. 

from Wikipedia:

Albuca is a genus of more than 100 species belonging to the Hyacinthaceae family, occurring mostly in Southern Africa. This genus is apparently most closely related to Ornithogalum. APGIII includes this genus in the Asparagaceae family. In the current classification scheme, Albuca has a well-defined green or brownish median longitudinal band on the outer surface of each tepal and a concentration of 3-5 veins along the midline. There are two types of flowers in the genus, the upward facing variety and the nodding or pendent variety. The Tropical African species, on the other hand, have flowers on such short pedicels that the only position they can hold is sideways. The flowers colours range from white and yellow through to green, but are usually embellished with a green stripe down the middle of each outer tepal. In some species, all the tepals open broadly and in others, the outer tepals will more or less open, while the inner ones remain closed, latched together at the tips by an intricate system of hairs and hooks. In some species, the tips of the inner tepals are sometimes coloured differently, either with white or bright yellow. Although there is not a great diversity in the shape of the flowers, there is however a fascinating range of leaf forms. Some species do admittedly have rather uninteresting foliage, others have such unusual leaves that they could be grown as a foliage plant in their own right. Leaves can be boat-shaped, coiled into corkscrew shapes, or narrow and wavy like a slithering snake.

Albuca can be forgiving and seems to be tougher than other Desert South African plants. All species want a well-drained mix and most should be grown in full sun. There are some exceptions and the habitat of those species should be studied for successful cultivation. Many South African and especially Tropical African species are not frost hardy and can be severely damaged by a light frost. They should be protected if frost is expected. Two clones are often necessary to produce seeds but exceptions such as Albuca spiralis do exist. In the event that only a single clone exists, seeds can be made by microwaving the pollen for 15-20 seconds, then mixing with fresh pollen and applied twice a day to the pistil for several days. Because most species rarely produce offsets, growing from seed is the best way to increase stocks, and is usually the only way to obtain most species. All species, however, are easily raised from seed, sown at about the same time adult plants come into active growth. Fresh seed often germinate within a week of sowing, often with 100% germination. The seed is short lived however and probably needs to be started within six months for good germination. Seedlings usually flower in their third year.

from; the Pacific Bulb Society Wiki:

From the above extracts you can see that Albuca don’t quite know if they are Ornithogalums or Albucas and their family could be Asparagaceae or Hyacinthaceae. 

Many are named Albuca sp. and a description of where they were found as this genus has not been fully categorized to date.

Probably the first one we ever grew was at the time named Ornithogalum caudatum or “Pregnant Onion”. This is now called Albuca bracteata. It has a large bulb that stands mostly above the soil surface and this produces long drooping leaves. The flowers are white and green. The common name is due to the habit of the bulb producing bulblets beneath the surface that look like odd bumps and eventually the bulb skin goes brown and if you peel off the skin, you will find little bulblets all ready to grow into new plants.

The most tolerant of the Albuca that will normally grow outside in England is Albuca shawii.  It is a pretty summer flowering plant with flowers like little nodding yellow daffodils. The flowers and leaves are scented a bit like aniseed. The leaves are thin and narrow and sticky to the touch. Plants come originally from the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa and look good planted in groups in a rockery or gravel garden. It reproduces easily from seed or from bulbils. 40cm.

Albuca aurea   (syn. Ornithogalum auratum) is another yellow flowered Albuca but so different from A. Shawii. It is a South African endemic species found in the Western Cape Province. It has broad leaves and grows to 50cm tall. During spring it bears yellow flowers with green markings which are held on pedicels so that you can see into them. There are many on one flower stem. The bulbs are green and make a large clump. 

Albuca nelsonii “Nelson’s Slime Lily” (syn Ornithogalum nelsonii

This is a tough and spectacular evergreen, bulbous perennial that grows in clumps and is 60-120 cm high when in flower. The large, fleshy bulb is partially exposed above the ground. The leaves are strap-shaped and rather sappy. Its flowers are white with green stripes, 25-35 mm long, and borne on a long, more or less erect pedicel. Many flowers are arranged in a raceme with a stout, erect, naked peduncle. The flowers are produced from September-November.

It is a summer rainfall species found in partially shaded areas in grassland and on coastal cliffs in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. It occurs at an altitude of 30-170 m.

Albuca humilis is native to Southern Africa – to South Africa from the Free State to KwaZulu-Natal according to some sources, or to the Drakensberg Mountains of Lesotho according to others.

It was first described by John Gilbert Baker in 1895. The specific epithet humilis means “low-growing”. It grows from small white bulbs, each producing only one or two narrow leaves in the summer, dying down in the winter. The flower stem is up to 10 cm tall, with one to three upward-facing flowers with six tepals up to 2 cm long. All the tepals are white with a green stripe on the outside; the inner three also have yellow tips. The flowers are strongly scented and have been described as smelling of marzipan. In a well-drained soil, I find this pretty hardy.

Albuca flaccida. This was known for a long time as Albuca canadensis which is now the name of a white flowered Albuca, not from Canada. The naming is very confusing. The plant I am now describing has yellowish green nodding flowers and is sweetly scented. The plant may send up more than one flowering stem per season. It flowers in late winter and is dormant in summer. Naturally, it grows on sandy soil in the South-western Cape. It can grow up to 100cm and produces a lot of seeds. The bulb produces lots of tiny rice like bulbils so the base of the plant often looks as though it is full of grass.

Albuca spiralis is found in the North-Western and South-Western Cape from Namaqualand to the Cape Peninsula and to the Eastern Little Karoo, South Africa, growing in sandy and loamy soils. Flowering occurs from August-October. The flowers are green with pale yellow margins, nodding, sweetly scented, reportedly of butter and vanilla! The smell can be quite strong on a warm sunny day. Leaves are narrow, wavy like a snake to spirally twisted with glandular hairs. The degree of spiral depends on the clone and the amount of sunlight the plant receives when the leaves started growing. The peduncle also has glandular hairs at the base. Plants are winter-growing and summer-dormant. If you want to interest children in growing plants, let them try this. The curly leaves are amazing. 20cm.

Albuca sp. ‘Augrabies Hills’

This is one of the most commonly cultivated species of the genus. It can be found in many cactus and succulent nurseries. The plant has leaves that are thin, glabrous, and somewhat fleshy in texture, narrowly channelled where it looks almost terete. The inflorescence is about 20 cm tall with a glaucous peduncle. Each inflorescence holds 3-5 flowers. The flowers are similar to a few other species, except that the bulbs of this species are raised above ground and the flowers bloom when leaves are present. This is a tough species that can take various treatments from very warm temperatures to very dry conditions for extended period of time. It likes a well-drained compost. Give it a little bit of fertilizer during active growth.

Albuca wakefieldii (syn Albuca abyssinica)

Finding information for this plants is almost impossible as it has about 20 synonyms. We got the seed as Albuca Wakefieldii so we are keeping this name. The leaves are flat and taper to a slender point. The flowering stem can reach 130cm with a large number of flowers singly or in irregular groups on long slender stalks. The flowers are bright yellow with a broad green stripe along each segment.

Albuca are not new to cultivation as the abstract below shows.

Encyclopaedia Londinensis, Volume 1 1810

Edited by John Wilkes

(for f read s)

ALBUCA, [from albus, Lat. white.] In botany, a genus of the hexandria monogynia claſs, ranking in the natural order of- lilia or liliaceae, The generic- characters are-Corolla: petals ‘ ſix, oblong-Oval, permanent; the three’ outer ſpreading, the three inner converging. Stamina: filaments ſhorter than the. corolla, three oppo-. fite to the inner petals, linear- ſubulate, complicate a little above the’ baſe, then flat; three oppoſite to the outer petals, thicker; antherae on the former, oblong, fixed to the infiextip of the Filament below the middle, upright; on the latter, ‘ſimilar but effete, or none. pyramid. Pericarpium; an oblong, obtuſe, triangular, Para _ Piſtillum: gem: oblong, triangular; ſtyle three-ſided; ſtigma a triangular ALB: three-celled, three-valved, capſnle. Seeds: numerous, flat, lying over each other, andwſiidening outwardsffl-Eſ ſhntial C/laractcr. CorollaYix-petalled, the inner ones dif form. Stamina, three of the ſix caſtrated; ſtigma ſur rounded by three cuſps. _ _ 


 I. Three ſtamens only fertile.

1. Albuca alttiffima, or tall Albuca: interior petals glanduloſe and bent in at the tip, leaves ſubulate, channelled-convolute. In this species the leaves are so deeply channelled as to be almost rolled into a cylinder; they are two feet long, and almost three inches broad at the base. It flowers in April and ‘May, and was introduced into England about 1780, by Meſſrs. Kennedy and Lee.

 2. Albuca major, or great Albuca: interior petals glanduloſe and bent in at the tip, leaves linear-lanceolate, flattiſh. Mr. Miller has, by miſtake, made this a native of Canada, whereas all the species come from the Cape of Good Hope. It flowers in May.

 3. Albuca minor, or small albuca; interior petals glanduloſe and bent in at the tip, leaves linear-ſubulate, channelled. It flowers in May and June. 

4  .. Albuca Coarctata, or channel-leaved albuca: interior petals vaulted at the tip ; leaves ſmooth, linear, ſubulate, channelled; peduncles the length of the bractes. The flowers are yellow, which appear in May. Introduced. here in 17741.

 5. Albuca spiralis, or spiral-leaved albuca: interior petals vaulted at the tip, leaves spiral. II. All the ‘ſtamens ſertile. 

6. Albuca faſtiginta, or up right-flowered albuca : interior petals vaulted at the tip, leaves ſmooth, peduncles very long. and was introduced in 1774.

 7. Albuca viſcoſa, or viſcoſe albuca: interior petals vaulted at the tip, leaves hairy-glanduloſe. lt flowers in May and June, and was introduced about 1779, by John Fothergill, M. D. ‘ 

8. Albuca Abyffiitica, or Abyffinian albuca: leaves li near, channelled, ſmooth. 

Proþagation and Culture. 

If the roots are kept in pots, filled with light earth, and ſheltered under a hot-bed frame in winter, they will thrive and produce flowers; but the beſt method is to have a border in the front of a green houſe, or ſtove, where the roots of moſt of the bulbous flowers may be planted in “the full ground, and ſcreened in winter from froſt; in ſuch ſituations they thrive much better, and flower ſtronger, than when kept in pots. Mr. Miller ſays, that he raiſed the third ſort from feed, and that it generally flowers twice a-year, firſt in March or April, and again in July or Auguſt; ‘ but that it did not produce ‘any ſeeds. He affirms, that the ſecond ſort is ſo hardy, that the roots may be planted about four inches deep in a border of light earth, where they will thrive, and produce their flowers late in the ſummer.

In their native “South Africa”, Albuca have many medicinal and other uses.

from; “Valuable and obscure specifics on African ethnobotanicals:

Albuca fastigiata   is used as a protective charm

Albuca nelsonii   Infusions are taken as emetics against sorcery 

Bulb infusions are also sprinkled in yards as protective charms

Albuca setosa is used in ritual cleansing

Albuca in general are used as a herbal medicine, crushed leaves to cover cuts and bruises, syrup against colds,

Ornithogalum longibracteatum syn Albuca bracteata

The Ornithogalum longebracteatum, known by its common name of the Pregnant Onion plant, is a species of Ornithogalum which is often grown as a houseplant, or outdoors as an ornamental in warmer climates. Its common name derives from the bulblets that develop on the side of its bulb and can be potted and grown into new plants.

Pregnant Onion or False Sea Onion is said to originate from South Africa; however, it can be found growing in the Mediterranean Area, Central Europe, Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

False Sea Onion is used in herbal medicine. European countries just recently started to use the herb for medical purposes, but official medicine still does not perceive it as a medical herb. United States, in their turn, use False Sea Onion juice in pharmacology to produce remedies for the treatment of cold viruses. False Sea Onion contains cardiac glycosides, alkaloids, flavonoids and other biologically active substances. Cardiac glycosides the herb contains have positive effect on myocardium and its performance. Flavonoids normalize metabolism, prevent cell aging and protect skin against the influence of free radicals. Consequently, False Sea Onion has antispasmodic action and improves blood flow. Alkaloid colchicine has very powerful anti-cancer activity. It prevents tumorous cells from splitting, but it has the same effect on the cells of the body. Colchicine is said to be of great help when dealing with acute gout attack. The substance is also responsible for anti-inflammatory and anodyne qualities of pregnant onion. Almost all parts of the herb are being used in alternative medicine. Leaves are said to be very effective pain-killer.

We hope that this short introduction to Albuca may encourage you to try this genus of bulbs. We have seed available of many species and varieties and this is fairly easy to germinate with flowering to be expected within 2-3 years.

The packets of seed below are all £2.00 per packet with 50p towards packing and posting for any number of packets.

Just phone 01746 716 454 or email to order

  1. Albuca aurea
  1. Albuca aurea (Thomas River) 18304
  1. Albuca canadensis
  1. Albuca clanwilliam-gloria
  1. Albuca humilis ex Jack Elliot
  1. Albuca fastigiata (Sentinnel Peak)
  1. Albuca fastigiata var. floribunda (Drakensberg Lesotho 2700m) 17115
  1. Albuca flaccida
  1. Albuca sp. G+L13
  1. Albuca humilis
  1. Albuca humilis (O Mi God Pass)
  1. Albuca JCA 15856
  1. Albuca longifolia (Port Elizabeth) 18312
  1. Albuca mixed
  1. Albuca shawii 
  1. Albuca species  (Crackpot Hill 23 km north of Cradock) 11283  
  1. Albuca species (Spring valley turnoff to Keiskamma) 11223
  1. Albuca species (Flonker 14 km north of Middleburg) 11300
  1. Albuca species (Aliwal North, 23 km E of Aliwal North to Lady Grey) 12496
  1. Albuca spiralis ‘Frizzle Sizzle’