Nerines In South Africa: A Primer

by Rachel and Rod Saunders

The Latin name Nerine is from the Greek word Nereis, the name of a sea-nymph. The genus is endemic to Southern Africa, and the species are widely distributed throughout the region with the largest number in the summer rainfall areas. Most species grow in large colonies in the grassland, and they may be evergreen or deciduous.

If deciduous, they may be either winter or summer growing. Nerine sarniensis, probably the best known member of the genus, has been cultivated in Europe since the early seventeenth century, and together with Nerine bowdenii, has been used extensively in breeding programs resulting in many of the hybrids we have today.

The taxonomy of the genus Nerine is in great need of revision. In 1967 H Traub published "Review of the Genus Nerine" in the American Plant Life Society, and in this publication he recognized 30 species. In a recent article (Novon (1995) 5: 103), D Snijman states that there are approximately 22 species, so presumably several of Traub's species have been reduced to synonymy. She then went on to describe a new species found in the Karoo, so the number increases again to 23. This agrees with the list of Nerine species published in "Plants of Southern Africa: names and distribution" edited by T Arnold and B de Wet (1993). However, not everyone agrees that synonymous species are actually the same, resulting in a fair amount of confusion in the genus!

Below are the species as listed by Arnold and de Wet, plus information on the growth characteristics of the plants, obtained from a variety of sources.

Nerine angustifolia: from the SE Transvaal and Swaziland; evergreen; leaves to 60 cm, pink flowers to 1m, pedicel very hairy.

Nerine appendiculata: from Natal and the E Cape in damp areas; evergreen, but may be deciduous, summer growing; flowers (in late summer or autumn) are pale to deep rose-pink.

Nerine bowdenii: from the E Cape and Natal; deciduous, summer growing; 20-30cm long leaves, hysteranthous, 30-70 cm flower spike, rose-pink or white flowers.

Nerine filifolia: from the E Cape, Transkei, OFS, Swaziland and Mpumalanga between rock slabs or in shallow soil over rock; almost evergreen (summer growing); filiform (thread like) leaves, flower spikes to 50 cm in April, flowers bright mauve-pink or white.

Nerine frithii: from the Transvaal, OFS and E Cape; ? deciduous or evergreen, but probably deciduous and summer growing; flaccid filiform leaves to 15 cm, pink widely spreading flowers with undulate margins.

Nerine gaberonensis: from SE Botswana, NW Transvaal and N Cape; deciduous, summer growing; a dwarf species to 25 cm, pink flowers.

Nerine gibsonii: from E Cape and Transkei at an altitude of 1500 to 1700m in grassland; more or less evergreen (dies back briefly in mid-winter); filiform leaves, umbel has 4 to 9 flowers, perianth segments have slightly undulate margins, flowers are glittering white suffused with pale pink at the apices with a pinkish stripe to purple with all shades of pink in between.

Nerine gracilis: from the Transvaal; ?deciduous or evergreen, but looking at its distribution, it is probably deciduous and is summer growing; filiform leaves to 30cm, small flowers on 20 cm peduncle, plant is small and looks similar to a Hessea.

Nerine hesseoides: from the OFS; ?deciduous or evergreen, probably deciduous, summer growing; glabrous flat leaves, small pink flowers with undulate margins.

Nerine humilis: from the SW and S Cape; deciduous, winter growing; leaves to 30cm long, hysteranthous, pale to deep pink flowers with red central stripe, flowers in autumn.

Nerine huttoniae: from the E Cape; deciduous, summer growing; prostrate leaves, flowers in summer, large pinkish-maroon flowers.

Nerine krigei: from the SE Transvaal and NE OFS; deciduous, summer growing; leaves spirally twisted, flower spikes to 60 cm, flowers large and pink.

Nerine laticoma: from the N Cape, Namibia, W Transvaal, OFS, Botswana; deciduous, summer growing; prostrate leaves, 15-30cm flower spike, large inflorescence of pink or white flowers.

Nerine marincowitzii: from the Karoo; deciduous, summer growing; somewhat succulent leaves to 30 cm, pink flowers aging to brown, no scent, flowers in autumn so is hysteranthous, when dry, the scape breaks off at ground level and the whole structure tumbles in the wind (like Brunsvigias, Boophanes, etc.).

Nerine masonorum: from the Transkei; evergreen; a dwarf species to 25 cm, grass-like leaves, pale to deep rose-pink flowers with central darker stripe in summer, bulbs multiply profusely.

Nerine pancratioides: from Natal; ?deciduous or evergreen, but comes from a summer rain area; bright green leaves to 30 cm, white flowers.

Nerine platypetala: from swampy areas (which get severe frosts) in the SE Transvaal; deciduous, summer growing; thin leaves to 50 cm, pink flowers flushed rose-red at base with a central red streak.

Nerine pudica: from the SW Cape; deciduous, winter growing; 25-35 cm spike, pink flowers.

Nerine pusilla: from Namibia. No more information found.

Nerine rehmannii: from Transvaal and Swaziland; deciduous, summer growing; 1 or 2 filiform leaves to 9 cm long, white flowers on 15 cm peduncle, flowers have very crisped perianth segments.

Nerine sarniensis: from the SW Cape; deciduous, winter growing, bright red flowers in autumn.

Nerine transvaalensis: from the Transvaal; ?deciduous or evergreen, but comes from a summer rain area; leaves present with the flowers, pale pink flowers with recurved perianth segments.

Nerine undulata: from the E Cape on steep slopes in partial shade; is almost evergreen (the leaves die back at flowering time, but emerge again very soon thereafter); has pale pink flowers with strongly crisped margins on stems to 45 cm, bulbs multiply profusely.

Then there are several controversial species not listed by Arnold and de Wet, but which are recognized by others as distinct species:

Nerine alta (now N undulata according to Arnold and de Wet): from E Cape wetlands; deciduous, summer growing: hysteranthous, petals very fine and tending to roll into tubes but strongly crisped giving the impression of very dainty spidery flowers, darker pink than N undulata (.Information from Cameron McMaster).

Nerine angulata (not in Arnold and de Wet at all): from seepage areas in the E Cape; almost evergreen; filiform but robust leaves, large flowers with upper petals arranged vertically in a fan shape in autumn, egg-shaped seeds. (Information from Cameron McMaster).

Nerine filamentosa (now N. filifolia according to Arnold and de Wet): from the E Cape in shallow soil in rock fissures; deciduous, summer growing; short fine filiform leaves, a flattened umbel of rose-pink to red flowers with strongly recurved segments and extremely long filaments, flowers in late summer. (Information from Cameron McMaster).

Nerine flexuosa - confusion reigns supreme! According to Graham Duncan's book ("Bulbous Plants of Southern Africa"), this species from the E Cape, is evergreen and flowers in late autumn. According to Arnold and de Wet, this species is the same as N humilis, which is from the SW Cape and is deciduous! According to the Agricultural Research Center, this species is the same as N undulata!!!