Belladona, Nerines and Blood lily - Autumn Flowering Bulbs from Southern Africa

Autumn flowering bulbs are often unappreciated but they can bring so much colour and joy to a garden at a time of year when most flowers have retreated. They draw attention and call to be noticed in gardens when little else is in full bright bloom. Bulbs of Southern Africa’s Amaryllidaceae family include Belladonna, Nerines and Blood Lilies. Many varieties of these plants have evolved to adapt and thrive in climates with dry summers similar to climate regions within Australia, making them a valuable tough addition to gardens. Depending on the variety, flowers emerge and bloom from late summer to mid-late autumn without foliage and hence they are commonly referred to as ‘naked ladies’ being without foliage at the start of flowering. Strappy foliage can appear during or after the flowering period.


Amaryllis belladonna

Producing tall proud clusters of trumpet-like flowers perfumed and proud in height and flower size. Named from a Latin description of ‘beautiful lady’. Indigenous to the Cape province in South Africa, it is reknown for the tall flower stems. 


Nerine spp.

Nerine species have flowers with six wavy petals, featuring recurved tips and pronounced stigma that thrust forward and upwards like many lilies. Petals appear with an iridescent sheen, giving the flowers a jewel-like quality. Genus ‘Nerine’, first published in 1820 by botanist William Herbert, is a reference from Greek mythology to the sea nymphs ‘Nereids’.


Amarine tubergenii

A hybrid of a Belladonna and Nerine, Amaraine shares the features of both - perfumed like a Belladonna but with large recurved petals that draw comparisons to Nerines.

Blood Lily

Haemanthus humilis

Large structural flowers emerge from two tongue-shaped leaves. Reminiscent of a creature you might see underwater in the ocean, though varieties are available in different colours, they are best identifiable for their rich blood coloured flowers.    

Bulbs of the Amaryllidaceae family all naturalise in the garden, meaning the bulbs establish themselves, reproduce without assistance over time, and increase their flowering with each following year.

Cultivation of Belladonna, Nerine and Blood Lily Bulbs

As bulbs with a Southern African origin, these drought tolerant varieties thrive in warm full sun positions but some varieties can tolerate partial shade. Well drained soil is a must as bulbs can risk rotting in boggy and heavy clay soils. Plant shallowly in the ground so the ‘neck’ of the bulb is above the surface. This planting depth differs to common spring flowering bulbs such as Narcissus and Freesias, which are planted well beneath the soil.

Bulbs, especially autumn flowering varieties that have evolved from a dry summer climate, are very tolerant of dry periods in the garden. Bulbs are their own storage vessel and will transition in and out of dormancy depending on the season and suitable conditions. Little additional watering is required during the growing season. Species of these bulbs can self-seed in good conditions but hybrids can be sterile.  

Autumn flowering bulbs rest over summer and flower in autumn, preferring warm well-drained positions in full sun. They benefit from an application of liquid fertiliser once the strappy foliage emerges, after flowering. Foliage will often die back in late spring and over summer during the hotter times of the year, so avoid removing foliage until this is complete as the bulb is drawing nutrients from the leaves.

Pest and Diseases 

Resilient to diseases and most pests if grown in suitable conditions, slugs and snails can damage the new foliage especially with regular rainfall. If bulbs are grown under shelter such as a greenhouse or inside in colder wetter climates, aphids, mealy bugs and red spider mites can be a problem. Monitor and check under leaves for any emerging pests in growing inside or in a greenhouse.   

Tips and more

Some species, such as Nerines, do not compete well with other plants, so consider their spacing on planning and avoid planting with vigorous ground covers. Consider a light mulch around the neck of the bulbs to suppress weeds. 

As the bulbs will often be dormant without flowers or foliage during the year, mark the bulbs' location with a label to avoid disturbing them with other plantings.

Uses in the Garden 

The flowering times of Belladonna, Nerine and Blood lilies make them a great addition to garden beds and can be used with a combination of spring and summer flowering perennials for an extended flowering season from spring into autumn. Belladonna and Blood Lily have structural blooms which are proud and prominent and can be planted in dry and drought tolerant plantings as a feature with their bright blooms. Nerines are a more delicate flower and blend well with romantic cottage style flower gardens. Nerines and Belladonna can be can be planted and naturalised en masse for a woodland or meadow effect under the partial canopy of trees but keep in mind some species do not perform well with strong competition. Bulbs can also be utilised in sparser gravel gardens as the gravel mulch provides a solid backdrop to their prominent beauty. With large prominent leaves and structural flowers, Blood Lilies work well in succulent collections and dry structural gardens.

The structural blooms and strong stems of Belladonna and Nerine make for stunning cut flowers and have great longevity in vases once cut.

Growing in pots and containers

All bulbs in Amaryllidaceae family are very versatile autumn flowers for pots and other containers. By growing them in pots they can be moved to create focal points in a garden or smaller courtyard when in flower, and positioned or tucked away elsewhere when in dormancy. As large bulbs they will need a pot with adequate space and a well drained good quality potting mix. If gardening in a colder or wetter climate, consider adding rough sand or extra gravel to increase drainage. Repot every year or so as the cluster of bulbs increases and more space is required. 


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