Wurmbea marginata
(Desr.) B.Nord.

Family : Colchicaceae (Colchicum family)
Common name : Spider lily (Eng.), Swartkoppie (Afr.)

This species with its stunning dark flowers contrasted by bright yellow anthers should be planted into pots where its beauty can be fully appreciated.

Wurmbea marginata is a cormous (corm = a tuberous bulb-like rootstock) geophyte that grows up to 220 mm tall. The dark green leaves are long, narrow and slightly curved. The flowers are dark red to purple with darker margins and striking bright yellow anthers. The flowers are star-shaped and the perianth tube is up to 3 mm long. The flowers have a fetid smell. It flowers from September to October. It is similar to W. recurva that also has dark red to purple flowers, however its tepals are smaller and curved backwards.

Distribution and habitat
There are about 39 Wurmbea species in Africa and Australia. They occur in both winter and summer rainfall areas. About 13 species occur in the Cape area.

Wurmbea marginata occurs mostly on clay or loam flats in the south-western Western Cape. The distribution ranges from Hopefield to Albertinia.

Derivation of name and historical background
The genus Wurmbea  was named by Thunberg after F. van Wurmb, a Dutch merchant in Java [not after the German missionary T. von Wurmb who founded Wuppertal in the Cedarberg in 1830 (Gunn & Codd 1981)]. The specific name marginata refers to the dark tepal margins of the flowers.

The fetid smell of the flowers suggests that flies could be the possible pollinators.

Wurmbea marginata

Growing Wurmbea marginata

Wurmbea marginata is well suited to deep containers, and prefers full sun. Corms can be planted 3050 mm deep. Use a well-drained medium of sand and compost or finely milled bark. Water the plants heavily once per week. Corms should remain undisturbed for at least 3 years, after which the plants should be repotted.

Seeds are sown in autumn. Sow seeds in deep trays or raised beds. Fill trays or beds with a well-drained medium of equal parts of river sand and finely sifted compost. Spread seeds evenly over the surface of the medium and cover with a thin layer of river sand. Use a fine spray watering can to water seedlings twice a week. Seedlings should remain undisturbed for two years, and then be lifted and planted into containers at the beginning of their third growing season.


  • Duncan, G.D. 2010. Grow bulbs. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Cape Town.
  • Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. 1981. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam.
  • Manning, J., Goldblatt, P. & Snijman, D. 2002. The color encyclopedia of Cape bulbs. Timber Press, Portland. Cambridge.


If you enjoyed this webpage, please record your vote.

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

Olivia Tyambetyu
Millennium Seed Bank Project
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
June 2011





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 www.plantzafrica.com