Friday, 15 March 2013

Worsleya procera - a miricle in mauve

On the day of the news of the election of Francis as the new Roman Catholic pope a minor miracle took place place in my garden. For the first time in its ten year life my Worsleya decided to bloom. Worsleya procera is one of the rarest bulbs in the world and is notorious for its intermittent and unreliable flowering. Yesterday morning several mauve flower buds began to open on top of this long necked pot plant. Like a proud first-time father I have been telling all my happy news.

Worsleya procera in bloom

I first became aware of this plant in the 1990s during a visit to the wonderful Bronte House garden of Leo Schofield in Sydney. Schofield had been given two thirty year old specimens from a friend and had placed them in pots at the front door of his beautiful 19th century home. In his 2002 book The Garden at Bronte   Schofield goes into rapture on the joy he got from these rare plants: 'Everything about it is sensational, from the form and the ribbed leaves, to the glorious flowers in a colour best described as fluorescent mauve.'

Amarylis Rayneri (an early name for Worsleya procera)
W. Fitch illustration from Curtis' Botanical Magazine (1871)

This rare South American bulb is known around the world by several common names, including the Empress of Brazil, the Blue Hippeastrum and Rooster Tail. While once known in the past by several scientific names, this distinctive member of the Amaryllidaceae family is now formally known as Worsleya procera. The genus is named in honour of the English botanist Arthington Worsley, while the specific latin epithet refers to the unusually large neck of the bulb.

Botanists from around the world come to worship
the miraculous blooming of the Sydney Worsleya

The natural habitat of Worsleya is a 2 km wide area near the town of Petropolis in the Organ Mountains north of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It grows in narrow basalt rich crevices 750 metres above sea level. In cultivation these plants are slow growing but long lived. They are best grown in large pots, an environment that allows for good drainage and portability around the garden. While I purchased my plant from a plant fair, specimins can also be purchased from specialist bulb growers.
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