Mr Masson's bulbs arrive thanks to Andrew, Lyle and a few rats

To celebrate the achievements of his collecting companion Francis Masson - a gardener from Kew Gardens in London who was sent to South Africa by Sir Joseph Banks - the Swedish naturalist Carl Thunberg named a genus of flat-leaved bulbs after him. That name was formally published in 1780 by the Dutch botanist, Maarten Houttuyn.

All 30 species of Massonia have two ground-hugging, tongue-like leaves - as do many other South African bulbs such as species of Haemanthus - and most produce a tight cluster of small flowers at leaf level.

Half of the species grow in the Cape Region of South Africa (13 only there), with the rest extending through the rest of South Africa, into Namibia and Lesotho. They tend to grow in semi-arid and subalpine areas. 

Those leaves are variously warty (or pustulate or papillate), and this helps distinguish a few species. The flowers are always white or yellow-green, and held within a ring of bracts. In this next picture the flowers at the edge of the cluster - tucked into those surrounding bracts - are just starting to open (the photograph at the top of the blog is same plant, three days later).

Each flower has six male filaments bearing anthers, and a single (female) style in the middle. The petals and sepals are indistinguishable (tepals), arising from the top of the short or longer 'floral tube', typically with some tepals rolled up and others spreading or curved. 

We've only recently acquired our small collection Massonia, which for now we'll hold in our nursery. The plants came from the late Andrew Craig, along with some other bulbs and South African plants, via equally passionate plant collector, and Roraima nursery owner, Lyle Filippe. 

Because we haven't had time to check all the species names I'll just include a few photographs of the leaf and flower variation on show in late June. For those who are more familiar with the genus, some of the species names we were provided with are: amoena, deformisechinata, longipes, pustulata, pygmaea (subspecies kamiesbergensis) and setulosa. 

As to why there leaves and flowers are so low to the ground, perhaps its because rodents are the primary pollinator. Or vice versa.


Mark Gallon said…
Always enjoy these remarkable stories of our amazing natural world. And it’s great to know that collectors such as Routan’s keep the flame of collectors burning
Talking Plants said…
Thanks Mark, and yes it is!
Kim Hamilton said…
I’m surprised the gardens have only just acquired their collection of these wonderful plants. They are certainly fascinating.
Talking Plants said…
Thanks Kim. We have substantially reduced our holdings of plants such as bulbs over the last few years (decades really). So we only have small holdings of genera such as these. A shame but we have to focus on what we can display or is needed for research and conservation.