|Just out: The Genus Lachenalia by Graham Duncan , the latest in the series of Botanical Magazine Monographs from Kew Publishing.|
Lachenalia is a genus of about 130 species of bulbous plant from southern Africa, fitting well into the coherent family Hyacinthaceae, though this is now subsumed into a broadly defined Asparagaceae. The majority of species are quite short in stature - few exceed 15 cm - and some have distinctly small and dingily-coloured flowers. On the other hand, many have large, conspicuous and ornamental flowers in an array of colours ranging from sea-green or blue to rich red and clear bright pink, often complemented by attractively marked leaves. A handful of species occur in Namibia, but the majority are South African endemics, often very locally so, with, (as usual), the greatest diversity in the Western Cape. This diversity of species and their presence in distinct habitats makes Lachenalia a fascinating genus to get know. I have had little success growing them in a crowded greenhouse, but on both occasions I've been at the Cape in springtime (i.e. late August-September) they have been a subject of fascination out in the veld and I've always wanted to know more about them.
Since 1988 the standard work on the genus has been Graham Duncan's The Lachenalia Handbook, a slim book published by Kirstenbosch. Although botanically useful, it is essentially a gardener's guide. Or was: it is now comprehensively rendered obsolete by Graham's magnificent new book The Genus Lachenalia, published last month by Kew Publishing. His interest in the genus goes back a long way: the first of his referenced publications on the subject dates to 1978, when he was 19 and has continued in a great sweep until the present culmination of his experience in this book. Although he is interested in all (and grows most) South African bulbs, there is no doubt that his true passion is for Lachenalia.
|Graham Duncan in the bulb house at Kirstenbosch, with Lachenalia duncanii, named in his honour by his mentor, Miss Winsome Barker, in 1989.|
|L. duncanii: the smaller-flowered species|
repay close inspection.
The book is a substantial tome of 479 pages, handsomely bound in red boards with a red ribbon bookmark - important production qualities when the RRP is £120. Despite this steep price I suspect it will sell out fast, as the print-run is less than a thousand copies and this is going to be an essential reference work for anyone interested in South African bulbs. Each of the 133 species is given a full description, with notes on its botanical history, distinguishing characters and affinities, ecology and distribution, etc. Lengthy introductory chapters cover the same subjects as an an overview of the genus, and include a substantial chapter on cultivation and propagation. The text is very well written, with all points clearly made - and miraculously free of typos (I have found only one, on p78).
|L. flava, by W. Barker|