Gethyllis is a very rare bulb plant endemic to South Africa and some parts of Namibia, with the highest concentration of them found bordering Western and Northern Cape provincial regions in South Africa. There are about 30 or more described species that are very popular with Bulbophiles, but many more exist though as yet not scientifically catalogued. There are probably several species not yet even discovered. This is due to the species' illusive nature. Flowering is fleeting. They may last for only a day or two in an entire year and appear in the absence of leaves. The leaves appear for four months of winter, but due to their unusual curled, spiraled, whorled and helical shapes, and their often stone-like speckled cataphyls, they camouflage themselves in their surrounds. The seed pod, again, appearing usually on bare ground, and in the absence of both the flowers and the leaves, would go unnoticed unless one is very familiar with what this strange, phallic fruit is.
Try Your Hand at Germinating Rare Gethyllis Seeds?
Gethyllis — also known commonly as Kukumakranka or Koekemakranka [pronunciation, "[Bushman Khoi San click]-u-[Bushman Khoi San click]-u-ma-[Bushman Khoi San click]-an-[Bushman Khoi San click]-a", and suggested meaning: "Crazy-Looking"] — has a rich tradition in Africa with both colonial descendants and Khoi San people. Gethyllis is the only bulb in the world to produce a delicious fruit from below ground, and is the only bulb flower to be active in three different seasons: flowering for pollination mid summer, leafing in winter, and fruiting (setting seed) in autumn. On one hand this fruit was seen as a traditional aphrodisiac, and on the other as a source of food for Nama people, of Namaqualand. The fruit was also used to freshen up the air of cupboards and linens. Unlike Lachenalia seed pods which form hard seed kernels, for instance, Gethyllis seeds are soft and fleshy to touch and chew, safely protected in a tantalisingly delicious fleshy and suggestively shaped fruit.
Anybody who has gone on a safari in Africa would have been told about The Big Five, the animals. Or, perhaps, even have seen them: Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhinoceros — the most exciting, large species to see on safari. Tourists who visit Kruger Park, or another wild nature reserve for safari, and who visit the curio-souvenir shops cannot miss the innumerable leather-hide paintings of The Big Five, the souvenir coffee mugs with pictures of The Big Five, or with safari shirts and caps with portraits of these animals.
For Flower Tourists to Southern Africa, who are less concerned with the plight and conservation of pachyderms and felines, one might suggest you keep an eye out rather for these impressive and incredibly rare Amaryllid bulbs — Gethyllis multifolia, Gethyllis ciliaris, Gethyllis britteniana, Gethyllis namaquensis and Gethyllis grandiflora. To see these prize flowers, one would have to travel from the West Coast of South Africa to the Namibian-South African border, along the Cape-Namib Route. Unlike viewing wildlife, one does not need binoculars; mostly, one needs to know only their locations — which do not change; no watering holes to frequent or savannahs to roam. These rare bulbs exist in known localities and, mostly, what one needs to see them in their natural splendour, is mostly careful research and timing.
The most likely time of year to see all of these large kukumakranka species is during South Africa’s winter-rainfall season; roughly, from the middle to the end of the calendar year. Some of these species — Namaquensis and Grandiflora — which grow in exceptionally dry areas towards Namibia may even be in flower at the same time as when in leaf (see image, Gethyllis namaquensis). This is very unusual for Gethyllis as the genus’s botanical, behavioural description makes a point of saying, “the only bulb flower to have its three important developments in three different seasons. The adaptation of the northern members of the Floriferous Big Five is possibly due to the extra dry climate; these northern bulbs taking whatever opportunity they can when moisture is present. Seeing a Gethyllis in flower, then, will most likely be possible in Namaqualand. Recommended places for Gethyllis sightings: African Bulb Flower Reserve, Kamiesberg101. Located at 101 DeWaal Dr., Kamieskroon.