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What is Babiana?

By Helga George
Updated May 17, 2024
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Babiana is a genus of approximately 80 species of flowering plants that grow from bulbs and are members of the iris family, Iridaceae. The species most commonly grown is Babiana stricta, known as baboon flower. These plants are from southern Africa, and grow best in climates that have rainy seasons in the winter and dry summers, such as the southwest and west coast areas of North America. In cooler climates, baboon flowers are dug up and stored over the winter, or grown as container plants.

Baboon flowers have their name because the bulbs are often eaten by baboons. A number of Babiana species are endangered in their native habitat. Others are considered weeds.

These types of plants grow to be approximately one foot (0.3 m) tall. The hairy leaves are produced in fans, like those of the Gladiolus. The 1 to 2 inch (2.5-5 cm) flowers are borne in groups of 10 to 20 on spikes, and are cup-shaped. They have a pleasant scent. The flowers of the original baboon flower species are blue, but a number of hybrids have been developed in a variety of other colors.

These flower bulbs should be planted in the sun. In warmer climates, such as southern Africa and the southwestern United States, they can be left in the ground all year. They should be planted in the fall for spring bloom. In colder climates, such as those below 20°F (-7°C), one should plant in the spring after the weather has warmed to that temperature. The bulbs should be protected with a layer of mulch if they are being left in the ground in a cool climate.

When planted in gardens, the bulbs should be spaced 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) apart. They should also be placed 4 inches (10 cm) deep in the ground. If planted in containers for use as houseplants, these flower bulbs should be planted 2 inches (5 cm) deep. Also, several bulbs should be planted in the same pot for a nice floral display. They can be planted in containers at any time, but are usually potted in the fall to give winter color.

As a houseplant, Babiana prefers direct sunlight. Ideal temperatures are between 55 and 60°F (12.8 to 15.6°C) at night, and 65 to 70°F (18.3 to 21.1°C) during the day. The plants should be kept moist while the leaves are growing.

In warmer climates, after the leaves have withered and the plants are done flowering, the leaves should be trimmed back. For bulbs that are grown in cooler climates, or as houseplants, the bulbs should be dug up and stored over winter at 55 to 60°F (12.8-15.6°C) in dry vermiculite or peat moss.

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