Monday, October 22, 2018

Brunsvigia pollination time!

Brunsvigia littoralis is an endangered bulb related to Amaryllis from the Cape Province of South Africa. Ours came from the U.C. Berkeley Botanical Garden fall plant sale years ago (more than a decade...). While habitat destruction is an important cause of this plant's endangerment, it has another problem: it is pollinated only by the longer-billed Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa). These birds perch on the flower stems and reach into the flowers for nectar, providing effective pollination. Malachite Sunbirds do not like disturbed habitats and areas altered by people, and are not known from California regardless. What is a plant to do?

Enter the local stand-in for Malachite Sunbirds: our son.
He has been pollinating these since he was two and saw me doing it. He is also the hand pollinator for pretty much everything he can reach this time of year - we grow several Haemanthus species as well as some other South African bulbs far from their native pollinators. He is great at it. Without hand pollination, we typically get one or two seeds per flowerhead. With hand pollination, we get thirty or more.

In his words: "I'm not going to tell you". OK, perhaps he is protective of his methods. However, the basic game is getting the pollen from the anthers (where the yellow powder of pollen is made) to the stigma when it is able to accept pollen (the tip gets fuzzy and white). If the pollen gets where it needs to be at the right time, each flower can produce two to six seeds.

These are not plants for impatient folks. From seed to flowering can easily be more than a decade. The bulbs are larger than footballs (American type) when ready to flower. They are worth the wait! In California they tend to flower in September, before the leaves emerge from the dry late summer soil for their fall and winter growth period.

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