Nerine gibsonii


Family: Amaryllidaceae
Common name: Gibson's nerine
Conservation status: Endangered

Nerine gibsonii

This attractive, autumn and winter-flowering bulb from the Eastern Cape is one of twenty-five Nerine species, all of which are endemic to southern Africa. This species has attractive, long-lasting pink or white flowers and makes an ideal container plant.

Nerine gibsonii is an evergreen or summer-growing geophyte reaching 150-300 mm high. Its several, pale green thread-like leaves are erect or suberect, distinctly channelled along the upper surface, and grow up to 20 mm long and 2 mm wide. The globose bulb produces an entirely subterranean neck up to 35 mm long. The flowers are strongly zygomorphic with relatively long, broad perianth segments up to 35 mm long and 7 mm wide. The perianth segments range in colour from pure white through several shades of pale pink, rarely to purple. Four to nine flowers are produced per flower stem that reaches up to 300 mm high. Both the flower stem and flower stalks are minutely pubescent, and the perianth segments each have a conspicuous dark pink central keel in the lower half, shading to white or bright green in the upper half. The perianth segment margins are slightly wavy and unlike most other nerines, the tips are not recurved. The stamens have distinct, tooth-like appendages at their bases, white or pale pink filaments that are bent downwards, and prominent, deep maroon unripe anthers. The fruit is a papery capsule containing one to several ellipsoid, pale green, fleshy seeds. Like all other members of this genus, the seeds of this species do not undergo a dormant period but germinate almost immediately after they have matured. The water-rich seeds are able to do so by drawing on nutrients stored in the plentiful storage tissue of the seed.

Distribution and habitat
Nerine gibsonii has a highly restricted distribution in the western parts of the former Transkei in the Eastern Cape. Its habitat has been much reduced by overgrazing and road construction, and it is currently confined to just a few rather vulnerable sites. It usually occurs along streambanks in wet, heavy, black, acid soil. In the wild the bulbs are dormant over the cold winter period but under cultivation they usually remain evergreen.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The generic name Nerine was established in 1820 by the cleric and amaryllid expert, Rev. William Herbert, Earl of Carnarvon. It is unclear whether he named it for Nerine, the Greek mythological sea nymph and daughter of sea god Nereis and Doris, or for Nereide, the daughter of Nereus, son of Oceanus. The specific epithet gibsonii commemorates Mr L.F. Gibson of Engcobo in the former Transkei, who first collected this species in the mid 1950s.

The flowers of Nerine gibsonii are self fertile and do not require pollinators in order to form seeds. The enlarging, ripening seeds force the papery fruit capsule to split open, thus releasing the seeds that fall to the ground and germinate close to the mother plants, eventually forming large colonies.

Growing Nerine gibsonii

Nerine gibsonii is most suitably grown as a container subject in a sunny position. Its active growing season extends from early summer to mid-autumn, during which time it requires heavy watering about once per week, but in winter it can either be dried off completely, or watered far less often, about once per month. It tends to remain evergreen in temperate climates and it likes an acid, well-drained, sandy growing medium such as equal parts of coarse river sand and finely sifted, acid compost. In the southern hemisphere, 20-25 cm diam. plastic pots suit it well, but in cold climates of the northern hemisphere, terracotta containers are preferable, to ensure adequate aeration of the growing medium. The bulbs are planted with the top of the neck resting at or just below soil level. Once planted, they like to remain undisturbed for at least five years, only needing lifting and dividing when flowering performance diminishes markedly. The bulbs do not multiply as rapidly as many other Nerine species do and they do not require supplementary feeding at all, as feeding has the effect of producing foliage at the expense of flowers.

This species is best propagated by seeds sown as soon as they are easily removed from the seed capsules. Sow the seeds evenly in deep seed trays or pots, in the same acid growing medium suggested for adult bulbs, and cover with a 1 cm layer of soil medium. Water well with a fine rose and place in a sunny position, under cover from heavy rain. Allow the seedlings to grow through their first winter, and lift them at the beginning of their third spring season and plant into permanent containers. Flowers can be expected for the first time during the third or fourth seasons, under ideal conditions.

The leaves, flowers, stems and bulbs of N. gibsonii are highly susceptible to attack by lily borer (amaryllis caterpillar), and the bulbs are often subject to the universal mealy bug scourge.


Duncan, G.D. 2002. Grow nerines: 38, 39. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.

If you enjoyed this webpage, please record your vote.

Excellent - I learnt a lot
Good - I learnt something new

Graham Duncan
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
May 2004


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