the Climbing Onion, Bowiea volubilis

It must be pretty obvious by now that I’m refusing to look at the big, end-of-summer picture. So I’m offering another micro plant portrait, the South African Climbing Onion. Logee’s calls Bowiea volubilis “an old favorite.” If so, this old favorite seems to have fallen out of favor and tumbled back into obscurity. The first time I clapped eyes on it was this year’s Venice Home & Garden Tour 2013, and neither I nor the garden owner had a clue to its identity. The climbing onion I saw in the Venice garden was grown as a hanging plant, a mysterious cascade of bright green, filigreed leaves spiraling out of its pot. Lush, ferny and utterly drought tolerant. I grabbed the owner’s elbow and inquired after its identity. He led me to another one, planted in the ground.

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And there it was, improbably geysering up a tomato cage. The garden owner found a small bulb near this plant and gave it to me. (Again, thank you!) That little bulb has yet to sprout.
A winter-growing houseplant in colder zones, the Venice climbing onions I saw in May were obviously thriving outdoors through a zone 10 winter and early spring.

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Dustin Gimbel, with his Sherlockian knowledge of plants, is the one who identified this mystery as the climbing onion, and then later found a couple enormous bulbs which he left on my porch. There didn’t seem to be much shaking with the climbing onion for the longest time after I repotted it, and I stopped checking it daily. All I had to remember it by was the tomato cage photo. Maybe it wasn’t so special after all. Meanwhile, the climbing onion got busy.

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The climbing onion was waiting for the end of summer to resume growth. When I next took notice, it was putting on quite the performance.

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I’d always intended to grow it as a hanging plant, but now I’m not sure if I want to interrupt this dialogue its having with the rusty table.
If anyone would like to try the little bulb that was gifted to me, I’d be happy to send it on. A time-lapse video and more cultural information can be found here.

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2 Responses to the Climbing Onion, Bowiea volubilis

  1. Jennifer says:

    I’d love it, but don’t know how it’d do here in Kansas (6b). We definitely get heat, but also humidity. And it’d have to come inside in the winter.

    I love how it’s wrapped around the leg of the table. Much preferable to the weirdness in the cage.

  2. kathy says:

    Flashback here Denise, I had one of these back in the late 70’s when I lived in San Diego.You would find them in the houseplant depts in those days,often in 2″ pots. I don’t remember what happened to it, but I lost lots of plants the first winter up here in Norcal, so it could have been a victim of my ignorance.

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