Schizobasis intricata; the African climbing onion

My favorite onion relative has started blooming again! Schizobasis intricata is a small, well behaved plant that is undeniably unique.  The base is a swollen caudex, reportedly up to 2 inches in diameter.  Mine are much smaller; about an inch.  Originally it was a single bulb, but about a year ago another smaller bulb poked it’s top out of the sand.

Each bulb is like a translucent green orb, covered in a thin papery husk.

From the top of each bulb sprouts a delicate, but wiry, bright green tendril.  Every inch or so it splits at a sharp angle, and each new tendril continues to split at regular intervals.  At just a few inches above the base, the mass of green becomes a tangle reminiscent of Cosmo Kramer.  The flowers of S intricata appear at the end of a tendril, and are very small.  The petals are waxy and white, and have no smell that I can detect.

A flower bud of Schizobasis intricata, just starting to open it’s waxy petals.


Another flower from Schizobasis intricata, this one fully open.

The flowers are self fertile, so a single plant will produce viable seed. I have been able to collect a dozen seeds or so, but the past few months haven’t seen any flowers that produce any fruit.  Hopefully this new round of blooms will see a change in that!

I have been able to entice it into blooming every few months by giving it a dry cycle after a flush of blooms.  After the flowers are spent, I stop watering altogether until the bulb itself is fairly shriveled and brown.  At that point the tendrils are dry and brown as well, and I cut them off at the base.  Once a few weeks of this drags on, I start watering again religiously but sparingly.  My soil mix is extremely fast draining, so it doesn’t sit in water for more than a few minutes. Reliably, it starts to send out it’s chartreuse fingers in search of the sun (in my case it’s t5 lights) and with them follows the flowers.

I hope this inspires you to take another look at your overlooked Schizobasis… or maybe even consider growing one!  It is very easy, and isn’t something you’re likely to see everyday.

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