The bulb is a development in plants which is designed to assist them survive long periods of dormancy. The bulb is a storehouse for food. It gives food to the emerging shoots and roots once a period of dormancy sets in. This may be a period of cold or dry weather after which growth begins once more. On the equator it never freezes, nor does it have prolonged times of drought. In temperate areas of the world which experience very cold winters, many plants tend to form bulbs, which enable them to survive. South of the equator, for example in South Africa, plants form bulbs to enable them to survive long periods of drought. On the equator (that is more or less five degrees either side of the equator) growth occurs the year round.
Today I want to mention two plants which grow from bulbs, and which are found in what one might term the sub-tropics, which includes Guyana and Zambia. They are the wind flower found in the warmer parts of the Americas and the West Indies, and the montbretia (Crocosmia) from southern Africa. Here in Guyana and throughout the West Indies we are treated to fleeting displays of the wind flower which is also known as the Zephyr lily, the tropical crocus, and the Barbados snowdrop.
Zephyranthes (that is its Latin name) comes in a variety of colours. On the grass centre opposite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the yellow wind flower grows quite profusely, as it does along the roadsides in Barbados and Trinidad. The Barbados snowdrop as its name suggests, is white, and is rarely seen in that island now. The pink variety is also less well known, but can be seen here in Guyana. None of the wind flowers get more than a couple of inches tall, and they generally all come into flower at the end of the ‘dry’ just a few days after the first rains. I have never wanted to grow them in pots, preferring to see them growing naturally along the roadsides or central reservations. I have gardening friends in Barbados who have tried to grow them in pots, but they have not had what you might describe as spectacular success. The Zephyr flower is also found in many parts of the southern USA and Central and South America. That is not to say that it is common. It is not, but it is one of the little gems that make us glad to be alive.
I have recently come across an old favourite of mine called the montbretia (properly called Crocosmia) which is a kind of upper class iris if you like. I first came across this plant in the Birmingham Botanic Garden in England, and shortly afterwards I saw it growing naturally fairly high up in the Drakensberg mountain range in South Africa. I have resolved to buy as many different forms of this gorgeous plant as I can, for I am certain it will do very well in the drier parts of my garden. Like so many plants it does not need to have a rich soil. There is already enough food in the bulb to support the first year’s flowers. After flowering, of course, one must try to retain the leaves and let them die down naturally as they help to build up the bulb (it’s a corm, really) for the next year’s display. The flowers are great for cutting for the table, and for use in displays, although one or two forms are a bit too one sided in my view, but they do last. The Crocosmia forms very large clumps in the garden if left alone, and they divide very easily when the plant is resting. The corms are quite small and easy to store in a dry shed or in dry sand to prevent them becoming desiccated. Once they are established in a herbaceous border, leave them alone. Do try and get Crocosmia (montbretia) and enjoy them as much as I do, and may your God go with you.