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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Family: Amaryllidaceae

[= Agapanthaceae, Alliaceae]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Monocotyledons > Order: Asparagales

About 73 genera and 1605 species (warm temperate and tropical regions worldwide), of which 21 genera and 263 species native to southern Africa (the region with the highest diversity of amaryllids in the world). An additional three genera and four species are naturalised, and an additional 13 genera and 43 species are cultivated in southern Africa.

Genera native to southern Africa 

List from Snijman (2000), Meyer (2000) and Plants of Southern Africa - an Online Checklist (SANBI).


Six species, all endemic to southern Africa. Previously placed in the Agapanthaceae.


There are about 550 species worldwide, most of them occurring in the northern hemisphere. Allium dregeanum is the only species thought to be native to southern Africa although there is some doubt that it originates here. Allium triquetrum (Three-cornered leek) is naturalised in the region and an additional 12 species are cultivated, including leek, onion, shallot, chives and garlic. Previously in Alliaceae.


Two species, endemic to the Northern Cape and Western Cape, within the winter-rainfall region.

Amaryllis belladonna (March Lily, Belladonna)


Seven species, native to sub-Saharan Africa, with six species native to southern Africa.


Six species, all endemic to southern Africa.


Two species, both native to southern Africa. Boophone disticha is widely distributed in sub-Saharan Africa.


Eighteen species, all endemic to southern Africa.


Six species, all endemic to southern Africa.

Clivia miniata (Bush Lily, St John's Lily, Clivia, Fire Lily)


About 65 species worldwide, found mainly in the tropics, with 22 species native to southern Africa. An additional four exotic species are cultivated in the region.

Crinum macowanii (River lily, River crinum)


Two species endemic to the winter-rainfall regions of the Western Cape and Northern Cape, in South Africa.


Two species native to southern Africa.


Fifty-one species are native to southern Africa and there is a further species (Cyrtanthus welwitschii) occurring further north, its distribution including Angola and Malawi. Bulb contains non-lethal haemolytic saponin and alkaloids, and causes vomiting and diarrhoea if eaten.


Twenty-five species, endemic to southern Africa, occurring in semi-arid regions.


Twenty-two species, endemic to southern Africa.


Thirteen species, all endemic to southern Africa.


Two species: Namaquanula bruce-bayeri and Namaquanula etesionamibensis.



Bulbs contain poisonous alkaloids, but not usually enough to cause death if eaten. Twenty-four species, all endemic to southern Africa.

Nerine undulata


About 20 species, found in the Mediterranean region, southern Asia, the Canary Islands and Africa. Pancratium tenuifolium is the only species native to southern Africa, found in Namibia, Botswana and the Northern Province. In addition, Pancratium canariense from the Canary Islands, and Pancratium maritinum from the Mediterranean region, are cultivated in southern Africa.


Nine species, native to Africa, with four species native to southern Africa. Bulbs can contain toxic alkaloids.


Twenty-seven species, endemic to southern Africa.


An African genus concentrated in southern Africa where 22 species have been recorded. Previously in Alliaceae.

Genera naturalised in southern Africa


Habranthus robustus is naturalised in the region. In addition, Habranthus tubispathus is cultivated in the region.



There are 18 species worldwide, found mainly in the Americas. Nothoscordum x borbonicum is an introduced weed in southern Africa, often found growing in garden lawns and along roads. It is difficult to control because the parent plant produces many small bulblets which get left behind when the plant is pulled out. Previously in Alliaceae.


Zephyranthes grandiflora originates from Central America and has become established in coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal. An additional four species are cultivated in southern Africa.

Other genera, cultivated in southern Africa

List from Glen (2002). The species name is listed for genera with only one species recorded in southern Africa. Doryanthes now included in Doryanthaceae in the order Asparagales.

Calostemma purpureum

Native to Australia.

Chlidanthus fragrans

Native to Peru.

Eucharis grandiflora (Amazon lily)

Native to Colombia.


An unidentified species recorded as being cultivated in southern Africa.


About 90 species and over 600 hybrids, native from Mexico to Argentina, and the Caribbean. Two species and one hybrid are cultivated in southern Africa.


Sixty-three species, native to tropical and subtropical South America, with four species cultivated in southern Africa.

Ipheion uniflorum

Native to Uruguay and Argentina. Previously in Alliaceae.

Leucojum aestivum (Summer snowdrop)

Native from Europe to the Caucasus. 

Leucocoryne ixioides (Glory of the sun)

Native to Chile. Previously in Alliaceae.


Lycoris radiata

Native to Japan.

Narcissus (daffodil genus)

About 27 species, native to Europe, North Africa and Asia, with five species cultivated in southern Africa.

Polianthes tuberosa (Tuberose)

Native to Mexico.

Sprekelia formosissima (Jacobean lily, Maltese cross)

Native to Mexico and Guatemala.

See list of important poisonous species in the Amaryllidaceae that are found in southern Africa.


  • Glen, H.F. 2002. Cultivated plants of southern Africa. Jacana, Johannesburg.

  • Goldblatt, P. 1976. Chromosome cytology of Hessea, Strumaria and Carpolyza (Amaryllidaceae). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 63: 314320.
  • Meyer, N.L. 2000. Alliaceae. In: Seed Plants of Southern Africa (ed. O.A. Leistner). Strelitzia 10: 569-570. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.

  • Snijman, D. 1993. Review of the systematics of the Strumariinae (Amaryllidaceae). Herbertia 48: 5257.
  • Snijman, D.A. 2000. Amaryllidaceae. In: Seed Plants of Southern Africa: Families and Genera (Ed. O.A. Leistner). Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria, pp. 570-576.
  • Snijman, D.A. & Linder, H.P. 1996. Phylogenetic relationships, seed characters, and dispersal system evolution in Amaryllideae (Amaryllidaceae). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 83: 362-386.
  • Vorster, P.J. & Spreeth, A.D. 1996. Leaf anatomy and generic delimitation in South African Amaryllidaceae. In: L.J.G. van der Maesen, X.M. van der Burgt & J.M. van Medenbach de Rooy (eds), The biodiversity of African plants. Proceedings of the 14th AETFAT Congress: 513516. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht.

Text by Hamish Robertson