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Species distribution and density. Darker squares represent higher density of members of this family.

Introduction

Chincherinchee family

A family of perennial bulbous herbs, with basal leaves, slimy sap and variously coloured flowers. Many species are important as cultivated plants.

Distribution

Widely distributed globally with the highest diversity in southern Africa and the Mediterranean, extending into Asia. In southern Africa, most species are found in the winter-rainfall areas and in the eastern parts of the summer-rainfall areas.

Number of genera in the world

ca. 46

Number of species in the world

ca. 900

Number of genera in the Flora of southern Africa region

21

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Number of species in the Flora of southern Africa region

535

Well-known southern African genera

Albuca, Eucomis, Lachenalia, Ornithogalum

Growth forms

Perennial, bulbous herbs.

Habitats

Mostly found in open, sunny habitats from sea level to mountaintops.

Flagship species

Eucomis autumnalis (pineapple flower; wildepynappel [A]; ubuhlungu becanti [X]; umathunga [Z]) is a well-known indigenous garden plant. It is a summer-growing, deciduous plant with a basal rosette of leaves appearing in spring. The flower stalk bears up to 125 flowers with a tuft of leaves (bracts) at the top. Pineapple flowers are especially attractive when planted in groups. Although the bulb is toxic, this plant is popular in the medicinal plant trade to treat respiratory and urinary problems, flatulence, stomach ache, fevers, syphilis and to facilitate childbirth.

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Significance of the family

Many species are important as cultivated plants in gardens and parks (Eucomis, *Hyacinthus, Veltheimia), as cut flowers (Ornithogalum) and pot plants (Lachenalia). Some genera are known to have medicinal value (Bowiea, Drimia). *Drimia maritima has been used since 1554 BC as a cure for dropsy. In southern Africa, certain species of Ledebouria were occasionally used as food plants by the San. Some Ledebouria, Ornithogalum and Drimia species are poisonous to livestock.

Diagnostic characters

Bulbous perennials  with basal rosette of mostly channelled leaves, appearing with the flowers . Inflorescences racemes or spikes borne on leafless stems . Flowers are mostly regular, with 2 whorls of 3 tepals each  and 2 whorls of 3 stamens each . Ovary superior with 3 locules. Fruit a loculicidal capsule .

Did you know?

The climbing onion (Bowiea volubilis) was recently classified as vulnerable due to plant harvesting for traditional medicinal use.