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Plant of the Week: Stalked Bulbine

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in "Plant of the Week." Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

Plant of the Week

Stalked Bulbine
Latin: (Bulbine frutescens)

Picture of a stalked bulbine plant
Bulbine blooms all summer long as long as it continues to grow.

The qualities separating the famous from the anonymous are often difficult to discern. Often the differences are minor, but if a product - a book, a hot new album, a politician or a plant - is marketed and distributed wisely, recognition and reward are sure to follow. Stalked Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens) will serve as an example of how distribution and promotion can make a relatively unknown South African plant a fixture in American gardens.

Stalked bulbine is a spreading perennial with a slightly woody base and fleshy, onion-like evergreen leaves growing a foot long. Sixteen-inch long spikes of yellow to orange flowers appear from late spring until fall. Individual star shaped flowers are a half-inch across with six reflexed petals and a prominent fuzz-ball of filaments in the center of each blossom. Long considered a member of the Lily family it is now reclassified as a member of the Asphodelaceae to show its kinship with red-hot-poker and desert candle.

Bulbine has been around for years but it labored in relative obscurity in mild parts of the country. Then in the new plant craze of the last two decades it was plucked from obscurity to be named a "Proven SelectionTM" plant, a division of Proven WinnersTM. Proven Winners is a consortium of three leading United States plant propagators who joined forces in 1992 to launch a branding effort to satisfy the then new container plant craze that was sweeping across America.

Since its inception the firm has selected new and novel plants that are vegetatively propagated and appropriate for growing in containers. In addition to their novelty, plants had to be colorful, easy to grow and adaptable over a wide part of the nation. To make money for growers most plants "finish" in 8 to 10 weeks and are the right size for shipping (less than 12 inches tall so they can fit in the shipping racks).

Using pull-through marketing techniques, the firm created a demand for their new plants at the retail and consumer level and then fed the system. Their marketing and distribution network approximates that of any mass-market item but was a new approach for plant growers. Bulbine joined the rank of the other 400 "Proven Selection" plants, the non-patented plants offered by the firm, about 2002. It will stay in the product mix until sales numbers slip and some other pretty new face replaces it.

Bulbine is easy to grow in a container or in the ground in a sunny site. Though it is perennial it is only hardy to about 20 degrees F (USDA zones 9 - 11). It has considerable heat and drought tolerance and grows in any average, well-drained soil. Plants respond to moderate fertilization during the growing season. Deadheading the blooms also encourages continual bloom. Propagation is easy by division at any season. In cold areas plants may be overwintered indoors in a bright window or anywhere where the plant will not freeze. Bulbine has no serious insect or disease problems.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - November 7, 2008

 

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.