Nephthytis afzelii

Whereas all the preceding species with ornamental fruits are fairly well known, at least from visits to the botanical gardens, nephthytis is practically unknown and may be encountered only in larger collections. It is a great pity that no one has yet tried to introduce it to market for its fruit, as well as foliage, are exceedingly beautiful and it is furthermore very suitable for warm, centrally-heated homes.

The four species that make up the genus are native to west Africa. They all have an underground rhizome which is horizontal, shortened and tuberous, erect leaf stalks and leathery, sagittate to hastate leaves. The inflorescence is a short, erect spadix composed of female flowers below, male flowers above, enclosed by a rigid, horizontal spathe.

The species has emerald-green spathes, rigid, leathery leaf blades almost 20 cm (8 in) long, and erect leaf stalks reaching 30 to 50 cm (12 to 20 in) in length. The plant usually bears fruit even without artificial pollination. The bright orange berries, 4 as a rule, measuring about 2.5 to 3 cm (1 to l-1/4 in) in length, are borne in the axils of the spathes, which are persistent. One advantage of the fruit is that it colours rapidly and then ripens on the plant for a period of almost six months. Each berry contains only a single seed which is very slow to germinate (taking up to 4 months) and must be inserted in a peat and sand mixture together with the casing, in other words the whole berry.

Most frequently grown is Nephthytis afzelii (syn. N. liberica), though another similar but smaller species — N. gravenreuthii — may sometimes be encountered in large, specialized collections. They are both very hardy and rewarding house plants and can be used to good effect in dish arrangements. They are attractive when placed in a dry spot in the paludarium and also very suitable for a terrarium for the rigid leaves are not damaged by animals. They tolerate light as well as heavy shade, temperatures from 10 to 35°C (50 to 95°F), the dust and smoke of cities as well as a dry atmosphere.

The compost should be acid, a mixture of peat and sand and some loam, or John Innes potting compost with additional peat added.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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