Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Plant profile: Tulbaghia violacea

Got a snake problem? Cute little Society Garlic to the rescue!  It's a tough plant, growing in hot, sunny areas with very little water, and usually has plenty of pretty violet flowers.  It's low maintenance and reliable, and comes in a plain strappy green leaf, or a nice variegated, stripy leaf. It's like a miniature Agapanthus with pinker flowers. Each clump is about 2' tall and 1' around - they can be divided to make more clumps when they get large enough. But snakes? Read on.

Latin name: Tulbaghia violacea ("tool-BAG-ee-ah vye-oh-LACE-ee-ah")
Common name: Society Garlic
Originally from: Africa - the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo, to as far north as Zimbabwe.
Blooms: Little violet trumpets wave 18" above the clump on thin stems almost all year round.
Light: Full sun, part sun.
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water!
Where to find in P. Garden: The middle back bed has a few clumps of the cultivar "Silver Lace"

How did this plant get it's name? Nothing to do with snakes. The slightly fleshy leaves and bulbous base smell like garlic when bruised (and both the leaves and flowers can be used in salads and other dishes) so that takes care of the "garlic" part, but "society"? Not many societies approve of the smell of garlic lingering about.

Oh wait - the snake problem? According to plantzafrica.com:

"The crushed leaves may be used to help cure sinus headaches and to discourage moles from the garden (by their strong smell). The smell repels fleas, ticks and mosquitoes when crushed on the skin.

The fresh bulbs are boiled in water and the decoctions are taken orally to clear up coughs and colds. The bulb has been used as a remedy for pulmonary tuberculosis and to destroy intestinal worms. Wild garlic may prove to have the same or similar antibacterial and antifungal activities as has been scientifically verified for real garlic. The leaves are used to treat cancer of the oesophagus.

The Zulus use the leaves and flowers as spinach and as a hot, peppery seasoning with meat and potatoes. They also use the bulb to make an aphrodisiac medicine. Wild garlic is a very good snake repellent and for this reason the Zulus plant it around their homes."

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