Two unusual bulbs growing in my garden are fascinating in both their foliage and flowering habits. The bulbs are large and also rodent-proof. They are dormant all summer, then each sends up a striking flower in late August. When the flower is finished, the leaves emerge, continuing the show throughout winter and spring.

Urginea Maritima (syn. Drimia Maritima) is also known as Sea Squill. Native to the area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, it thrives in full sun, low water, and excellent drainage. Given these conditions, the Sea Squill survives without any extra care. Everything about this plant is a bold statement: the bulb can become 12" wide (the top third should be above ground when planted), and the bright green strappy leaves are 4" wide, forming a beautiful two-foot-tall clump that persists all winter. The leaves suddenly turn yellow in May, and the dormant bulb is long forgotten until August when the flower emerges. The single stalk rises to a height of 4' with flower buds that are white, tinged with purple, and open progressively from bottom to top. The starry flowers are loved by bees.

Sea Squill is mildly toxic, and the bulb has been used to make a poison for rodents. In fact, gophers do not eat this plant. I have had my one bulb in the ground for three years and so far nothing has bothered it. It is rather expensive but just one Urginea Maritima is a joy in the garden and will eventually divide and form two bulbs. It flowered for the first time this year so I presume it will every year from now on. I have seen them for sale at Waterwise and at Ace Hardware in Fallbrook.

One interesting fact is that the thick papery outer covering of the bulb seems to protect it from heat damage and is known to regrow after a fire has burned its native habitat.

Boophone disticha is also known as Oxbane, Sore Eye Flower, Tumbleweed, and Perdespook (Horse Ghost.) Boophone disticha is native to South and Southeast Africa. It needs good drainage and sun but a little more summer water than the previous bulb and is a bit smaller, only maturing at 7" wide. After flowering the wavy leaves form a fan shape and are about one foot long, arching over the bulb in two directions. In August the large globe-shaped pink and red flower forms and quickly fades and stiffens into a straw color fruiting head that dries and then separates from the bulb. It is blown across South Africa veld like a tumbleweed, distributing seeds as it rolls.

Oxbane is highly toxic; the pollen is known to be irritating to the eyes and the bulb is toxic if eaten by livestock. Horses are frightened by the tumbleweeds propelled by the wind or rolling down the slopes of the veld. Boophone has been used as an arrow poison by the Bushmen and Bantu of South Africa. I was surprised by the 13" tumbleweed that developed from the flower last year and expected to collect another this year. After the flower matured in early September, the tumbleweed must have detached and blown away because I could not find it anywhere!

This bulb is very hard to find, probably because of its toxicity. I was attracted to its leaves when I bought from a wholesale succulent nursery and did not know it was toxic at the time.

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by Barbara Mhyre