Albuca is a genus of more than 100 species belonging to the Hyacinthaceae family, to be precise in the subfamily Ornithogaloideae, an Eurasian and African subfamily. This genus is apparently most closely related to Ornithogalum. Some of the new taxonomy proposes including this genus in the Asparagaceae family however.
All Albuca species grow from bulbs, and most have a dormancy period after flowering whereby they lose their leaves. The flower scape is, like almost all Hyacinthaceae, unbranched. Most species only produce one scape per growing season, although some, such as Albuca flaccid and Albuca maxima, may produce two or more; the tropical African species may produce scape after scape after scape in optimal conditions.
The majority of species are winter-growers, mainly originating from the south-west Cape and northwards into Namaqualand, South Africa. The genus also extends into tropical Africa and Arabia, where there are comparatively fewer species.
The most characteristic feature of the genus is the shape of the flower. The outer 3 tepals spread out like any normal flower, but the inner 3 stay more or less closed. The general appearance is therefore somewhat like a snowdrop Galanthus. The flowers do come in a limited color range, white and yellow through to green, but are usually embellished with a green stripe down the middle of each outer tepal. Some species also have the tips of the inner, closed tepals colored differently, either with white or bright yellow. Flowers are either presented in a nodding or drooping formation, or erect on firm pedicels (flower stalks). The tropical African species, on the other hand, have flowers on such short pedicels that the only position they can hold is sideways.
Although there is not a great diversity in the shape of the flowers, there is however a fascinating range of leaf form. 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. Some of the above information and information about the species was furnished by Julian Slade in his Introduction to the Pacific Bulb Society topic of the week on Albuca in July 2003.
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 extremely 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.
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