Bowiea volubilis is an odd-looking long lived bulbous plant that is easy to grow. It produces frothy strands of foliage and myriads of
yellowish-green delicate flowers in late winter/late spring.
Description: The Bowiea volubilis is an interesting long living
perennial bulb. It is generally considered a succulent in the broad
Bulb: The pale green onion-like caudex (bulb) can be op to 25 cm
in diameter (could take 70 years) and grows half buried in the soil.
Stem: Each year in late winter, the bulb develops a new
branched scrambling or twining, green flowering stem (raceme) that
somewhat make it looks like an elongated asparagus but is much more
tender, the stem (wine) can reach 2.5(-5) m., it grows with great vigour
and determination, and hangs up any nearby support it finds on its way.
As it matures, dense lacy branches form and give a full appearance. When
fall arrives, the growth dies back going into a period of dormancy.
Leaves: There are no leaves except for a small quantity of true
leaves that emerge from the bulb, they are small, very short lived and
are soon replaced by the flowering stems of true scales leaves that drop
Flowers: Starry, greenish or white up to 1 cm wide, scattered on
the long twining raceme. Blooms are produced only in moderate to full
sun where the plant produces dozens of flowers on each shoot. The
flowers have an unpleasant smell.
Blooming season: Spring and sometime will bloom twice in a year.
New growth in spring
Dry stem (wine) in winter.
Family: Liliaceae (Hyacinthaceae)
Bowiea volubilis Harv. et Hook. f. Harvey
Origin: The genus Bowiea comprises only one species, Bowiea
volubilis , and it is found in Southern + Easter Africa (South Africa,
Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, and Tanzania)
Habitat: Grows in peat, and stands a lots
of water and sun.
Conservation status: Listed in
CITES appendix 2.
Common Names include: Climbing Onion, Sea Onion, Zulo
Etymology: Bowiea is named after the British
plant collector James Bowie (1789-1869).
- Ophiobostryx volubilis, Skeels
- Schizobasopsis volubilis,
- Bowiea kilimandscharica Mildbraed
- "Bowiea nana"
Cultivation: This plant truly thrives on neglect. An old
favourite that’s easy to grow and puts on a fanciful display but it took
years to acclimate; this is not a plant for the impatient gardener. It
likes well drained, organic soil (e.g. use a mixture for cactus +
normal potting soil) and regular watering during the active growing
season. Let the soil become rather dry before watering again
Stop gradually watering when the stalk dries out after blooming, in
summer or else the bulbs may rot. Start watering when the stalk starts
growing again in late winter. ) It can be planted undergrounds, with a
thin soil layer on it, or just leave it “on” the ground, it will root
anyway, and the chances of getting rot are smaller this way rather than
planted undergrounds (although it grows slower). Protect from heat in
summer. Light shade to full sun, keep bulb shaded.
Mealy bugs seem to be a problem, especially in older specimens that have
formed a clump of bulbs. They hide in the residue of the old, dry, dead
Propagation: Seeds, detach offsets when repotting , but can also
be reproduced by dividing the bulbs. In fact any small (or large)
fragment of a nice green bulb scale will sprout little baby bulbs if
allowed to callus on the edges when simply placed on a bright
windowsill. Just leave them until they have pulled all the nourishment
they can from the "mother" bulb scale which will then dry up, then
remove them and pot up.
Most authors write that the bulb is highly poisonous, from root to top,
but H. Jacobsen claims it can be eaten.