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Bulbs Lead the Field

This article was first published on 26 Mar 2021.

Nerine 'Fothergillii Major'

Nerine 'Fothergillii Major'

Photo by the Otago Daily Times

Plants with common physical attributes are classified into families. Named after one of its members, a plant family generally ends in the Latin suffix ‘…aceae’ – meaning ‘resembling’.  For example the Amaryllidaceae family is named after the belladonna lily, Amaryllis belladonna.

Characteristics of Amaryllidaceae include their bulbous nature, alternating strap-like leaves and flowers that lack petals and a calyx, rather they have six tepals which are uniform in size and colour. The flower head is usually wrapped inside a papery bract (a modified leaf) which protects the developing flower bud.

Many gardeners would handle a member of the Amaryllis family on a weekly if not daily basis.  They are widely known throughout gardening and culinary worlds and horticulturists have selected and bred members from this family to improve their flavour, size and flower colour.

Showy members include daffodil, Narcissus; snowdrop, Galanthus; snowflake, Leucojum, Nerine, Agapanthus and Hippeastrum. Edible members include Allium species - onion, chives, leeks, garlic; and society garlic, Tulbaghia. However, it is worth remembering that plant parts of many of the showy flowers can be toxic to pets and humans if eaten. In fact, the vase water that daffodils have been standing in can make a child feel quite ill if mistaken for a glass of water.

Many Amaryllidaceae species are flowering in gardens at present including Amaryllis and Nerine on the Rock Garden at Dunedin Botanic Garden.