Family: Amaryllidaceae

Benign neglect is one of the best instructors that a landscape designer can have; whether it is a derelict former garden in the midst of suburbia (where only the most resilient species have endured) or a corner of one’s own property that has been left to its own devices for longer than anticipated.

In these kinds of pseudo-habitats, plantings settle into a form of equilibrium that is driven by the elements, adjacent floras (both native and exotic), and the tolerances of the species and varieties that were once consciously planted.

Amongst the members of this widely-grown genus, the most common species that one encounters in older gardens are Nerine undulata (syn. flexuosa) ‘Alba’ and Nerine bowdenii. The former is a fine garden plant that is more prevalent in the south of New Zealand, where it seems to perform markedly better than in the warmer north (where it frequently fails to flower).

Nerine sarniensis (syn. N. fothergillii ‘Major’, pictured above left) is the other most likely suspect within older plantings; notably when its well-proportioned, vibrant red flowers appear in autumn. Timing is one of this genus’ finest qualities, for several species and varieties that feature in our work (such as Nerine ‘Dark Red’, pictured below, N. pudica and N. humilis, shown above, right) produce their flowers in autumn – when most garden flowers have either shut up shop for the season or are planning their next move.

The genus comprises 25 species, most of which naturally occur in South Africa and its adjoining countries, Lesotho and Eswatini. Nerine laticoma subsp. laticoma, whose floral form demonstrates Nerine‘s close relationship to Brunsvigia more clearly than other members of the genus, extends considerably further north than all other Nerine species – reaching southern Angola.

Nerine species inhabit a wide variety of habitats, from dry, rocky hill country to fynbos, grasslands, marshes, and even desert (in the case of Nerine laticoma subsp. laticoma). As with many other South African bulbs, there is a marked difference between the growth patterns and preferences of winter-rainfall species from the Western Cape and species from summer-rainfall areas of South Africa (notably in the east).

Nerine pudica

The varied histories of how exotic species have been introduced to New Zealand are not often discussed, and frequently require investigation to ascertain who we have to thank (or not, as the case may be) for the presence of a given plant. In the case of Nerine pudica, we can be grateful towards Terry and Lindsey Hatch for the opportunity to grow this elegant bulb, as it is one of a great number of flowering bulbs that Terry (co-author of the definitive book on the cultivation of bulbs in NZ) imported in the early decades of Joy Plants.

As one can see within the images above and below, N. pudica is an atypical species, due to the fact that its flowers retain a bell-like form – in contrast with the more typical floral effect conferred by the strongly reflexed petals of most nerines. The compact, glaucous leaves of Nerine pudica (which are more akin to Lycoris in their shape and arrangement) also readily separate it from its relatives.

Although we have found it to be relatively tolerant of competition, the smaller stature of its foliage dictates that it is not as resilient as larger nerines. This makes further sense when one considers the role of fire in its ecology; for in its natural range in the Riviersonderend Mountains (in the western part of the southern Cape), summer fires frequently clear surrounding vegetation within its sloping fynbos habitat1.

It does not, however, require fire to grow well in cultivation – as demonstrated each autumn when its rose-tinged white flowers emerge from the garden outside our studio.

The specific epithet ‘pudica’ is derived from the Latin for ‘modest’ or ‘shy’, in reference to the flowers. This has led to some naturalists applying the common name Demure Nerine to this species – although this recently-applied title is neither widespread or traditionally used.


  1. As described by G. Duncan in the remarkable book that he co-authored (with the botanical illustrators Barbara Jeppe and Leigh Voigt) on South African amaryllids (Duncan, G., Jeppe, B. & Voigt, L. 2016. The Amaryllidaceae of Southern Africa. Pretoria : Umdaus Press).