Tuesday, May 1, 2012

bulbine by any other name

At least fifteen years ago, I rehearsed for a play reading at the hillside home of one of the other characters. I think his name might have been David, and will call him so for purposes of telling this story.

David had a large and diverse garden including many succulents. I was drawn to one I'd never seen before, a grassy-looking plant with round leaves about ten inches high, and sprays of tiny yellow or orange-and-yellow blossoms borne on slender stalks rising up to twenty inches above the tops of the leaves. The stalks were so slender, in fact, that the flowers seemed to float above the plants, giving the illusion that they were hovering butterflies or tiny birds.

I asked the name of this fascinating plant, and David said, "I don't know. We always call them the little orange and yellow things." He gave me a generous handful of cuttings, and said, "Don't tell Marsha! She wants some of these, but I've refused to give them to her." Marsha, a mutual friend, was also involved in the play reading but wasn't with us on that day.

The little orange and yellow things did beautifully in my garden, and after having been tried in various places they've pretty well filled up the narrow strip between our driveway and our neighbor's driveway, interspersed with dogbane, various aloes, jade plants, and lion's tail, which supports the orange part of the color scheme. From time to time, I would continue to search for the name -- on line, in books, and at nurseries -- but the little orange and yellow things just had to do.

And then late last fall I finally joined the local garden club and took my mystery plant for identification. "It's bulbine!" said our knowledgeable president, and sure enough -- Wikipedia's illustration was a perfect match for the yellow ones (with some of its 160 species native to South Africa and some native to Australia), while the bi-colored ones turned out to be the rarer Hallmark variety.

I can't say I like the name bulbine very much, and so I'm going to call mine asphodel after their more poetic relatives.

BTW, I recently offered little orange and yellow things to Marsha, but she wasn't interested. Maybe she'd like some asphodel.
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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License