Indigenous Blue Flower Bulbs

Published on September 14th 2020
A purple flower on a plant
As Spring slowly makes its way into the Western Cape, the bulbs push out their gorgeous displays. It is the best time of year to observe these tiny bulbs that hide between the multitude of daisies. Blue is a particularly fascinating colour, in that, only a very small subset of anthocyanins (pigments) can produce a blue colour.
Plants have evolved to be able to produce several pigments, but a true blue still holds some mysticism. We will have a look at some blue-tinged flowers for the hiker and the gardener (with some tips and tricks shown in).
A close up of a lobelia
Shades of blue migrating into purple appear throughout the Cape Fynbos. It is a wonderful way to brighten the garden.

Blue Flowering bulbs of Southern Africa

Did you know that the colours of a flower will dictate what sort of pollinator it attracts? For example, bees and birds do not perceive colours the way we do. This allows a plant to exclude bees or birds as pollinators merely by selecting a specific colour for its flower.
Here is a list of some “blue” bulbs:
Some lesser-known species to look out for on hikes:
  • Needleleaf combflower (Micranthus juncea)
A close up of a flower
Aristea species have a gorgeous blue tint to them.

Where can I buy blue-flowering bulbs?

You can buy bulbs from your local nursery or postal order from the SA bulb company and Hadeco. If you are feeling adventurous, then I would have a look at Seeds for Africa - they have a swath of hard to come by bulb species available.
*Note that from seed to flower can take 2-3 years depending on the species. In some cases, this may be extended.

Caring for bulbs after postage

When you receive your bulbs in the post, make sure to separate them according to their water requirements. It might be helpful to make tags for each type of bulb before planting.
Most bulbs can be planted directly into soil, but take note of the following:
  • If the bulb has papery coverings or tunics, leave them on the bulb unless they fall off naturally.
  • Most bulbs will NOT require soaking in water before planting.
  • If you do not know which way is up (meaning you cannot figure out where the pointed nub is), you can either leave them to sprout out of soil or plant as is. Most will merely push out a shoot that will correct itself.
The soil mix and top dressing will largely depend on the species of bulb. Make sure to visit the individual bulb profiles for planting conditions.
A close up of a flower
Agapanthus sp.

Growing Specialist bulbs

If you find some of the species breathtaking, yet you have never tried growing South African bulbs then I would suggest joining the IBSA society. It is open to both local and international participants.
Societies such as the IBSA, provide valuable growing advise from experts in the field. You might even be able to swap out bulbs and learn how to grow difficult species outside of their natural habitat.
To learn more visit their Facebook page.
A vase of flowers on a table
Chittka, L. (1997). Bee colour vision is optimal for coding flower colour, but flower colours are not optimal for being coded—Why?. Israel Journal of Plant Sciences, 45(2-3), 115-127.
Gottsberger, G., & Gottlieb, O. R. (1981). Blue flower pigmentation and evolutionary advancement. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology, 9(1), 13-18.
Kupferschmidt, K. (2020, 3 September). Meet the blue crew, scientists trying to give food, flowers, and more a colour rarely found in nature. Science magazine.
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