Nymph of the high country: Nerine angustifolia

Get to know one of the outstanding floral beauties of Verloren Valei.

Nerine angustifolia, the Giant or Narrow-Leaved Nerine, also known as Berglelie (Photograph by Gerrit van Ede)
Nerine angustifolia, the Giant or Narrow-Leaved Nerine, also known as Berglelie (Photograph by Gerrit van Ede)

In South Africa, the winter rainfall area of the Western Cape is well-known for the richness and diversity of its flowering plants, which are well documented in the more popular literature. Less well-known are the equally abundant flowering plants in the summer rainfall area. The mountain areas are especially rich, but the grasslands should not be discounted.

Verloren Valei Nature Reserve has around 400 different flowering plants. Some of them very striking, such as Agapanthus inapertus, while others are less showy. One of the most striking, and surely one of the outstanding beauties on the Reserve, is Nerine angustifolia.

The genus name is of some interest. Many years ago (1680), in the time of sailing ships, bulbs of this plant washed ashore on the Isle of Guernsey, where they grew and flowered. The species had several names until, in 1820, William Herbert created the name Nerine after the mythological sea nymph with the same name. This was the Guernsey Lily, which later turned out to originate from South Africa, being Nerine sarniensis from the Western Cape.

Today 23 species are recognised, all occurring in Southern Africa. They are divided in three groups depending on their growth cycle: Evergreen (13 species); Deciduous Winter Rainfall (four species) and Deciduous Summer Rainfall (six species). Oddly enough, Nerine angustifolia falls in the Evergreen group although in most localities in nature, it is deciduous. However, when growing this species, it is best to treat it as an evergreen, if it is not too cold.

All the deciduous species, of which Nerine sarniensis is one, have broad leaves. Nerine angustifolia, by contrast, has narrow leaves—in fact, angustifolia is Latin for “narrow leaf”, hence one of its common names is the Ribbon-Leaved Nerine. Other common names allude to its size—Giant Nerine, and where it grows—Berglelie or Mountain Lily.

Nerine angustifolia grows in marshy grasslands, which, I think, are normally dry in winter, and on the edge of streams. From the middle of February this lovely flower can be seen at numerous places on the Reserve. With a flower spike that can be up-to one metre tall, the flowers are easily seen above the wetland grass and make a spectacular display when flowering in colonies. The flowers are irregular, meaning the flower segments are not arranged in a symmetrical pattern. They are fairly large—up to 40mm long—and with seven or eight flowers on the stem, they are quite showy. They are also good cut flowers. It is hoped that this Nerine will be added to the plants available from the Nursery at Verloren Valei in the near future.

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