Haemanthus albiflos, December  2020 POM

Like autumn being late this year in Chico, some plants vary their bloom time year to year, or season to season, but here’s a plant that is *always* in bloom in December: Haemanthus albiflos.

It’s a very durable, very easy pant to grow.  The most difficult part about it?  Finding a good, universally-used common name.  Most folks seem to call it “white paintbrush”, so that’s what I’ll use today.  The common name comes from the clusters of small flowers with snowy white petals and crowds of bright yellow stamens on matching snowy white stems, making for a delightful white paintbrush tipped in yellow.  These fun South African bulbs are always in bloom in December (starting in November, technically) and require very little attention.  Outdoors they want morning sun and afternoon shade, or dappled shade all day, and water only when completely dry.  If grown indoors as a houseplant, they’ll definitely tolerate more sun.  They are hardy to the mid 20’s F, and ours have been fine outside in Chico for a few years (protected from winter rain), but I grow them in a pot to bring indoors in case there’s a truly hard freeze.  If you’re a gambler, you could definitely try to grow them in the ground.  I’ll do that with a *single* bulb the next time I re-pot them, which won’t be any time soon as white paintbrushes like to be very, very crowded in their pots.  The bulbs are evergreen, maintaining their foliage all year.  Each bulb only maintains four leaves at a time—when a new pair of leaves emerges, the oldest pair is retired.  The leaves it DOES maintain are short, fat, and low-lying so unlike some plants, the foliage won’t occupy your entire windowsill or be too tall for your outdoor plant stand (I’m looking at you, amaryllis).  

White paintbrushes are slow growing, but easy to propagate from divisions or seed (easy but slow), so if you find a well-priced clump, purchase it to give yourself a head start. If you want a low maintenance, durable plant that is always in bloom for the holidays, I hope you’ll give “white paintbrush” a try.  If you do, let me know how it goes.

Happy gardening, and happy holidays,