Cyrtanthus falcatus


Amaryllidaceae (Amaryllis and Daffodil Family)

Flower of Cyrtanthus falcatus

This beautiful cyrtanthus with its curious 'shepherd's crook' flower stem and long arching leaves is very easily cultivated and deserves to be grown more widely.

Cyrtanthus falcatus is a deciduous, summer-growing bulbous plant producing a large, pear-shaped bulb with a distinct neck. It has four arching, leathery, strap-shaped, bright green leaves and a pendent inflorescence of numerous long, narrowly trumpet-shaped flowers. The flower buds appear in mid-spring together with the new leaves. The sturdy, maroon flower stem grows rapidly to a height of up to 300 mm and is distinctly curved in the uppermost part, resembling a shepherd's crook. Due to the unusual horizontal or downward-facing position of the bulbs in habitat, the flower stem bends upwards into an erect posture. Up to ten flowers are produced per inflorescence and the flowers have long perianth tubes up to 4 cm long. The outer surface of the perianth segments is pale yellowish-green with reddish-pink margins, while the inner surface is attractively striped with brownish-maroon. The anthers are bright yellow, and the style is straight with a maroon tip. The fruit is an oblong-shaped capsule that splits longitudinally, releasing numerous black, flattened papery seeds.

Distribution and habitat
Cyrtanthus falcatus is only known to occur in Grassland of the Drakensberg mountains in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, South Africa, usually below 1800 m. The bulbs are found on vertical cliffs, either hanging downwards or lying in a horizontal position, with the roots securely anchored between rock slabs.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Cyrtanthus falcatus was described by Dr R.A. Dyer in 1939. The genus name Cyrtanthus means curved flower, and is derived from the Greek kyrtos (curved) and anthos (flower). The species name falcatus means sickle-shaped or curved in Latin, and refers to the distinctive sickle-shaped or curved foliage.

Cyrtanthus falcatus is probably pollinated by sunbirds that cling to the sturdy flower stem and probe the base of the perianth tubes for nectar.

Uses and cultural aspects
Not known to be used by the indigenous peoples of South Africa.

Growing Cyrtanthus falcatus

C. falcatus is one of the easiest species to cultivate and it is most successfully grown as a container subject. Hanging baskets, or shallow or deep, 30-35 cm diameter plastic containers are most suitable. It requires a sharply drained growing medium such as equal parts of coarse river sand and finely milled bark or finely milled compost. The bulbs are planted with the entire neck and about one third of the bulb exposed. It does best in a lightly shaded position or one receiving morning sun and afternoon shade. A thorough drench is recommended every seven to ten days from mid-spring to the end of the summer growing period, until the leaves begin to turn yellow and die back in autumn. During late autumn and throughout the winter months, the soil should preferably be kept completely dry, but the bulbs can withstand some moisture provided the soil medium is sharply drained. The bulbs are gregarious and should be allowed to form thick clumps, and left undisturbed for at least five years, until clumps become too thick and flowering performance diminishes.

Propagation of C. falcatus is easily achieved by means of offsets and seed. In order to obtain pure seed, cross-pollination by hand is necessary between different clones. The black, flat papery seeds of Cyrtanthus species have limited viability and are best sown as soon as they are ripe, in deep seed trays in the same growing medium recommended for adult bulbs. The seeds are sown just under the surface and kept moist using a fine rose. Germination takes place within three to four weeks and seedlings should remain in their seed trays for two growing seasons before being planted out into permanent containers at the beginning of their third season. First flowers can be expected from the fifth season onwards, under ideal conditions. Offsets are best removed at the end of winter, just before active growth begins. They are removed by gentle tugging, and should not be forcibly broken off as this may cause excessive damage to the basal plate. Damaged surface should be treated with a fungicide and be replanted as soon as possible to prevent desiccation of the perennial fleshy roots.

References and further reading

  • Duncan, G.D. 1990. Cyrtanthus - its horticultural potential, Part 1.Veld & Flora 76(1): 18-21.
  • Duncan, G.D. 1990. Cyrtanthus - its horticultural potentail, Part 2. Veld & Flora 76(2): 54-56.
  • Dyer, R.A. 1939. Description, classification and phylogeny. A review of the genus Cyrtanthus . Herbertia 6: 65-103.
  • Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wildflowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Flora Publications, Durban.
  • Reid, C. and Dyer, R.A., 1984. A review of the southern African species of Cyrtanthus. The American Plant Life Society, La Jolla, California.


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Graham Duncan
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
September 2004


To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.

This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website