Massonia citrina

Massonias are bulbous plants in the Asparagaceae (formerly Hyacinthaceae) family and as such are not eligible for BCSS shows. However, they share habitats in South Africa with various succulent plants and are happy to grow in greenhouses that are managed for the care of succulents.

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Fig. 1 Massonia citrina

Most species are found in the Mediterranean climate zone and consequently are winter-growing just like tylecodons or conophytums. I use my standard compost mix for them consisting of 1:1 4mm grit and John Innes No. 3 compost. I start watering towards the end of August and the shoots soon emerge from the compost to develop into a pair of leaves flat on the ground. The usually white or pink-tinged stemless flowers are produced between the leaves from October–February depending on the species. The leaves die away again around April and the pots are kept warm and dry for the summer. A closely-related genus, Daubenya, is largely distinguished by DNA sequencing rather than significant morphological differences.

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Fig. 2 Massonia citrina close up

One of the best-known species, having been described in 1780, is Massonia depressa, which is very variable but can usually be distinguished by having a much wider floral tube than the other species. This tube fills with nectar which is a ground-level reward for visiting gerbils that effect pollination. Cameron McMaster (Napier, Western Cape) offered seed of Massonia spec. yellow (Rooihoogte Pass) in his 2009 list. Some of this was grown in Europe by Pinter et al who described it as M. citrina in 2013 (Phytotaxa 112 (2): 50–56).

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Fig. 3 Massonia citrina fruit

Yellow flowers are known in Daubenya but this is a novel colour break in Massonia. With the exception of some minor differences in the degree of fusion of the filaments, M. citrina is essentially a yellow-flowered ecotype of M. depressa and perhaps does not deserve full species status. However, from a gardener’s perspective, this is a very attractive introduction that deserves wide cultivation. I was given a pair of seedlings of M. citrina about four years ago and have had flowers in February for the last two years.

Terry Smale

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