Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Horticultural Interpreter.
Over the last few months, we have seen a succession of glorious South African bulbs blooming under glass at Wave Hill. The last of these, and largest, is the oxbane (Boophone disticha), in flower this week.
Native to much of southern Africa, it is an impressive plant but one that should be treated with respect. Both the common name and genus name (Boophone—“ox-killer,” in Ancient Greek) are clues: the bulb contains a potent poison, presumably sufficient to bring down an ox!
A cluster of small, shimmering, crimson-pink flowers rises on a stalk in early spring. It is reminiscent of one of the larger ornamental onions (Allium spp.), which is not surprising, given that it is in the same botanical family: Amaryllidaceae.
After blooming, the seed head develops into a twiggy, star-burst structure which, if left to its own devices, would eventually detach and roll across the landscape, distributing its seed as it is blown by the wind.
The leaves will emerge very soon and by summer will have grown into a distinctive fan arrangement, similar to a peacock tail.
It is perched just outside the Cactus and Succulent House on one of the sills in the Palm House, the central section of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory.