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Strictly speaking Ledebouria socialis is not a succulent, but it is often found in succulent collections. It rapidly forms clumps of perennial bulbs, each covered with a papery sheath which prevents water loss, and attractively marked leaves. It should be grown with the bulbs resting on top of the compost.

It was first described in 1870 by John Gilbert Baker as Scilla socialis and is still sometimes found under that name. One of the most commonly-grown forms has dark, purple-coloured undersides to the leaves, and this is also known as Scilla violacea. It was reclassified as a Ledebouria in 1970 by John Peter Jessop.

0817 Fig1 L socialis

Fig. 1 Ledebouria socialis

In habitat it grows mainly in humus-rich soil in wooded thickets in the summer rainfall area of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, where its mottled leaves enable it to blend into the dappled shade. In cultivation it seems to be happy with standard cactus mix, partial shade, and fairly generous water during the summer. It should be kept dry over winter, when it should be hardy down to freezing

0817 Fig2 L socialis flower

Fig. 2 Ledebouria socialis flower

Ledebouria socialis offsets rapidly and in a few years will produce a substantial clump. It generally flowers in April or May each year. The flowers are not spectacular, but very attractive and plenty of them.

It is also generally considered that all parts of the plant are poisonous. One website I consulted suggested that this was perhaps not the case, but had arisen due to its close relationship to other plants which are toxic. However, not something to experiment with!

Sheila Cude

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