Haemanthus albiflos, commonly known as Paint Brush, is an evergreen to semi-evergreen bulbous plant native to South Africa. It has a wide, mainly coastal distribution stretching from the southern Cape through many parts of the Eastern Cape, right up to the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal.
With its handsome leaves, long flowering season, and red berries, it is an excellent choice for shady spots in the garden.
The leaves are quite variable, from pale to dark to grey-green. They may be smooth and shiny, covered with short soft hairs or with yellowish spots on the upper surface. In the wild, it flowers in fall and winter but may flower at any time of the year in cultivation. The fruits are in the form of a large berry and ripen to an eye-catching bright orange or red, attractive to birds. The upper half of the bulb is usually exposed above ground and is bright green.
This plant is reported to be used in traditional medicine to treat chronic coughs and as a charm to ward off lightning.
Growing Conditions and General Care
Paint Brush is an ideal plant for a shady rock garden or parts of the garden receiving poor light, where it can be left to multiply for many years.
It is one of the easiest of all the Haemanthus species to grow. It requires a dappled shade position and likes to remain undisturbed for many years once established. The soil must be well aerated. A suggested medium is equal parts of well-rotted compost, coarse river sand, and loam. Plant the greenish bulbs with the upper half exposed, and the thick fleshy roots spread out horizontally over the soil.
It also makes an excellent subject for plastic or terracotta containers, and these need not be deep as the roots naturally spread out horizontally. Pots of Paint Brush can be grown very successfully on a shady veranda, and it is also suitable as an indoor plant where it should be placed in a position receiving dappled light but not direct sunlight. Plants like to become pot-bound, and mature bulbs flower reliably every year and only need to be divided every 7 or 8 years when flowering performance starts to diminish. Paint Brush is not hardy and has to be grown under the protection of the cool greenhouse in countries with very cold winter conditions.
Propagation of Paint Brush is by seed and by separation of offsets from thick clumps. Seeds are sown once the ripe berries have become soft and turned a bright orange or red color from the end of winter to early summer. Germination can take several months, so be patient.
Seedlings should be allowed to remain in the trays for two years and can be planted out into the garden or permanent pots in spring at the beginning of their third season, during which time the first flowers can be expected, under ideal conditions.
Offset bulbs are best separated from thick clumps in early spring, as temperatures begin to rise, ensuring that each offset has a good supply of roots. They should not be forcibly broken away from the mother bulbs but should be tugged away gently. They should be replanted as soon as possible and kept well shaded until the bulbs have established themselves and formed additional roots.
Pests and Diseases
Paint Brush is not often subject to attack by pests or diseases, but the leaves are sometimes invaded by the Dreaded Lily Borer, also known as Amaryllis Caterpillar. This pest, which is most prevalent during the hot summer months, can be controlled by cutting away and disposing of affected leaves or spraying with a carbaryl-based insecticide in severe infestations.
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