Brightening the drab floor of our mini woodland in our dry winters, this member of the Amaryllidaceae family flowers freely.

Its botanical name, Haemanthus albiflos, means blood flower (Heamanthus) white flowers (albiflos), which sounds contradictory, but the blood part of the name is because many species of Haemanthus have red flowers.

2 Heamanthus-albiflos-woodland

Naturally, Haemanthus albiflos grows in dappled shade in woodlands, forests and thickets, and occurs along the southern and eastern coastal belts of South Africa

In our garden it grows in the shade of trees and shrubs, and we just leave it to its own devices and it flowers reliably every year. The fallen leaves from the deciduous trees provide it with a decent mulch, perfect growing conditions for this low-growing plant. Some of the plants are solitary, but most form clumps that increase in size and density each year, making it a good ground cover in shady areas.

3 Heamanthus-albiflos flowers

The flower heads are very showy

4 Heamanthus-albiflos-flower-and-bee

The bees like them too

5 Heamanthusalbiflos-berries

As the flowers go over and the stamens hang down like the remains of a desiccated bridal veil, the seed berries start to swell

6 Heamanthusalbiflos-berries-ripe

Eventually the berries ripen to an orangey-red. I have had to keep an eye out to get this photograph, because as soon as the berries ripen they get eaten, I assume by birds but maybe also by small mammals, such as the Slender Mongoose (see here)

It is nice to have this drought-resistant plant providing food for wildlife at the end of winter when times are tough. This season, conditions are particularly harsh. We last had decent rain in May. This spring we have had only two rainy days so far, with each of these days providing less than a millimeter of rain. No rain at all is predicated in the current long-range 10-day forecast, but daytime temperatures are set to rise to well over 30 degrees C.

Drought- lawn

This is what our lawn looks like

Here in KwaZulu-Natal, the level of water in our dams (that serve as reservoirs) is nowhere near as critical as it is in the Western Cape, but no rain and high temperatures are taking their toll. It goes without saying that using hosepipes for such non-essentials as lawns is just not right, and in many areas the use of hosepipes is prohibited, and other restrictions to limit the use of water are also in place.

We have decided not to plant vegetables until the rains come. In the meantime, self-seeded veggies and herbs are providing some cover and food, and we water the veggie patch occasionally using a watering can. Our rainwater tanks are still storing some water from last season’s rains and we have put in some pipes that catch the bath/shower water so as to gravity feed it into parts of the garden, but these are feeble efforts in the face of the drought.


Another forest dwelling plant, Clivia miniata, has managed to flower this spring, while all around it appears to be in virtual lockdown, awaiting the rain

Most of our garden plants are indigenous and able to survive periods of drought. Many also, are able to provide at least some food for birds and other wildlife. At times like these, it is a relief to have a garden of hardy plants, most of which will survive the hard times (I hope) and I am very pleased not to have a rose garden.

Source: Pooley, Elsa. 1998. A Field Guide to Wild Flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Durban: Natal Flora Publications Trust.

Posted by Carol