Strumaria tenella

(L.f.) Snijman subsp. orientalis Snijman

Family : Amaryllidaceae
Common names: Free State snowflake ( Eng. ); tolbol (Afr.)

In flower

This interesting perennial bulb grows in the cracks and in the topsoil of dolerite rocks surrounded by Nama Karoo vegetation. The plant's most attractive features are its fine green leaves and flowers in an umbrella-like head.

FlowersStrumaria tenella subsp. orientalis is a fast-growing perennial bulb with fine green leaves which look like grass. Because of this, the plants are difficult to recognize when not in flower and even during flowering, the plants can only be noticed when they are in groups. The plant grows 20 mm high including the flower stalk. This deciduous bulb looks rather like an onion when one cuts through it but it is much tinier than an onion bulb. Leaves vary from two to six depending on the rainfall. They are mostly green but are brown towards the base. Flowers are white and arranged like an open umbrella, with 6-20 flowers in one head. Seeds are fleshy, with 3-6 in one capsule. When mature, they turn reddish green and fall to the ground when the capsule opens. The flowering of this summer rainfall species starts from early February until March, which is earlier than in the Cape snowflake, S. tenella subsp. tenella, which grows in the winter rainfall region of southern Africa and flowers from April to July/August.

Conservation status
Of the 28 species in the genus Strumaria, eleven are rare, three vulnerable and two are endangered. Most of the rare species are found in the winter rainfall region of southern Africa. Strumaria tenella subsp orientalis is not yet a threatened species but it appears on the Red List of the Free State plants under Non specials

Distribution and habitat
Strumaria tenella subsp orientalis is currently known only in the Free State in South Africa and western Lesotho. The species grows in the Bethulie area and at the Free State National Botanical Garden, Bloemfontein in the topsoil of dolerite rocks surrounded by Nama Karoo vegetation, which includes Stomatium species and Ruschia spinosa (= Eberlanzia spinosa ).

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Strumaria is derived from the Latin word, struma, which means a cushion-shaped swelling on an organ. This is named after the conspicuously swollen style base of the small white flower, which is diagnostic for the genus as a whole. Before the taxonomy of the genus was revised in 1994, several species used to belong to the genus Hessea. According to herbarium records, this subspecies was first discovered as early as 1917 by Professor George Potts of the University of Free State, who collected it from the Eagle's Nest in Bloemfontein.

The flowers of Strumaria tenella subsp orientalis attract lots of small insects which cross pollinate them when moving from one to another. The numerous seeds are dispersed by being shaken free when the capsule opens, scattering them on the ground.

Uses and cultural aspects
The Basotho people traditionally use the plants to treat the skin problems of their babies.

Growing Strumaria tenella subsp orientalis

The seeds must be collected as soon as possible before they are dispersed from the capsule. Thereafter they should be sown as fresh as possible for the best germination results. Sow the seeds in March under a controlled greenhouse in a well drained soil mix. For the best results it is good to mix some soil from the plant's natural habitat into the germination mixture. Once sown, the seeds take two weeks to germinate. Since the seedlings become dormant in winter, it is best to mark the seed containers clearly, otherwise they could be thrown away by mistake in winter. Seedlings must not be watered at all during winter to prevent rotting. Strumaria tenella subsp orientalis flowers in the second year from seed (Craib 2003). It tolerates very hot conditions.

References and further reading

  • Craib, C. 2003. Cultivation and propagation of Strumaris in Johannesburg. Bulletin of the Indigenous Bulb Association of South Africa No. 52. Johannesburg.
  • Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
  • Goldblatt, P., Manning, J. & Snijman, D. 2002. The color encyclopedia of Cape bulbs. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
  • Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seeds plants of southern Africa : families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Snijman, D.A. 1994. Systematics of Hessea, Strumaria and Carpolyza (Amaryllideae: Amaryllidaceae). Contributions from the Bolus Herbarium 16: 1-162.

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Luambo David Rambuwani
Free State National Botanical Garden
March 2008







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