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Polyxena ensifolia - plant of the month January 2011

The genus polyxena has, for a very long time, been very mixed in cultivation with a number of different names being attached to a relatively small number of species. Polyxena longituba (shown)  has masqueraded as several species for many years Greater availability of material, mainly wild collected seed has improved the nomencleature problems and added to the number of species seen in cultivation.

Polyxena ensifolia comes from the drier areas of the Cape Province of South Africa favouring moist sandy or clay based soils. It has two, sometimes three lanceolate to ovate leaves, which are about 2.5cm wide by 10cm long. The leaves are initially prostrate but become semi-erect as the flowers mature.

The flowers are arranged in a corymbose raceme and may be white through pinkish-mauve. The outer flowers open first, creating a kind of 'halo' appearance. Over a period of several days, the inner flowers open to give an almost perfect floral mound, with the outer flowers now touching the prostrate leaves. The flowers have a long perianth tube which is slender and longer than the tepals and the filaments are exerted , two major characteristics of this species. A synonym of P. ensifolia is P. odorata, which relates to the pronounced hyacinth-like fragrance which it produces

Cultivation is straight forward if protection is given against hard frosts. A free draining gritty/sandy soil, kept evenly moist whilst plants are in growth, with as much natural light as possible will produce good results. Off-sets are made fairly freely and propagation from seed results in flowering sized plants in their second or third year. Good housekeeping is the order of the day;  botrytis being a problem if moisture gets into the densly packed, fading flowers

Ray Drew