Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Brodiaea Agapanthaflora?



I’m a pretty loyal California native planter, but I had my confidence in one of the native bulbs, Brodiaea, shaken recently. We’ve been planting “Corrina” and “Queen Fabiola” for a couple of years, and they’re good small bulbs for our area — they have pretty blue flowers, they don’t take much space, and they don’t require any irrigation, you just fall-plant them and walk away. But then a friend of mine said they looked like agapanthus. Ouch.



That might not sound like a big deal to non-Californians, but around here agapanthus is the omnipresent strip-mall/sub-division/highway-median plant. Plenty of gardeners from other areas seem to like it — for instance, Garden Design magazine recently featured a French garden named Le Jardin Agapanthique, which to me is like naming it the Privet Garden — but it gets no love here. The flower is okay, I guess, but the foliage is too glossy for our landscape; it looks plastic and fake next to the more silver and gray foliage of other low water plants. I sort of respect the plant’s bomb-proof toughness — I once dug a bunch out of the ground and dumped it all in a pile in the sun in the middle of summer and three weeks later it was still blooming — but I’ve demoed a lot of it, and I find that it’s always heavy, it’s always full of snails, and it always leaves behind nasty wormlike white roots. My apologies to any agapanthus gardeners out there, but I don’t like it.

So it’s kind of disturbing to think that Brodiaea resembles agapanthus. Do other people see the similarity? There’s a photo of the Brodiaea foliage below, and, upon reflection, the leaves are actually kind of glossy, and the fact that they flop over and then turn brown doesn’t sound like much of an improvement over the agapanthus. But Brodiaeas are pretty. Maybe I like agapanthus more than I admit? I’ll still plant the Brodiaea — the Van Engelen catalogue just came, 100 bulbs for $10, such a deal — I just think I’ll have a faint touch of sheepishness when I see it in our gardens for a while.



brodiaea foliage

brodiaea foliage

Note — My mother recently asked me if the brodiaeas in her garden were agapanthus. She knew they weren’t, but agapanthus was the closest plant she could think of.


9 Responses to “Brodiaea Agapanthaflora?”

  1. June 1st, 2009 at 6:26 am

    Ross says:

    Hmm…well, I can see the resemblence – but although I’d take the foliage of agapanthus over brodiaea, it might be nice to see an interesting alternative to its flower for a change. We also have a profusion of Agapanthus – because of its relatively low maintenance requirements – but the closest cousin to its flower in SA would be allium? I do admit to being an Agapanthaphile though…

  2. June 1st, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Gayle Madwin says:

    In photographs, they do look like Agapanthus. But in person, they don’t really seem similar at all to me.

  3. June 1st, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Susie says:

    They look beautiful & delicate, a much deeper purple. Lovely, thanks for introducing it to me.

  4. June 1st, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    lostlandscape(James) says:

    For me, as much as they might look alike–and they sort of do to me–they still fill different functions. The brodiaea does its bulb-thing nicely, shows up for a while than vanishes for the rest of the season. But the agapanthus is there ALL THE TIME, green and shiny and all plastic, like you point out. In the end it’s probably easier to plan around, unlike a bulb that isn’t there a lot of the year. People do like their green strappy leaves.

  5. June 3rd, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Town Mouse says:

    One of the few plants from the previous owner that I kept is — Agapanthus. “Few plants give so much for so little” says the East Bay MUD book, and it’s true! So, I’m keeping it.
    The Brodelia I planted for the first time this year is maybe 1/4 size, blooms at a different time, and disappears completely. Seems like a plant for a different spot to me…

  6. June 4th, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    barbara says:

    Similar color, both monocots – but oh the differences.. Yes agapanthus requires very little and blooms readily, but brodiaea are so much more delicate — and unusual. Town Mouse, I keep clivia for the same reason you keep agapanthus. I haven’t grown many native bulbs at my house but at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden each year is wild with the Brodiaea, Allium, and Douglas irises – among many others. Maybe this year I’ll do more bulbs.

  7. June 4th, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    ryan says:

    So the consensus seems to be that they are somewhat similar in their bloom, but much different in their overall effect in the landscape. And the South African prefers his native plant over ours. Sounds about right.
    I saw some bordiaeas while I was hiking today. So pretty.

  8. June 8th, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    bradzio says:

    A friend and I were traumatized by agapanthus growing up in Southern California. They were everywhere in our region. Entire parking lots, malls, grounds of public buildings and median strips planted with it. So when we saw a particularly full round brodiaea blooming it looked agapanthesque to us. On further reflection, I do like the darker, richer purple of the brodiaea and it’s much more delicate. But still…

  9. June 17th, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Christine says:

    I disagree that they are similar! Brodiaea exemplifies the lady-like qualities you want from a CA bulb. The sun slightly glowing through her delicate petals, the darker purple lines which show off her delicately pointed tips and the greenery that gladly sits in the shadows so the blossoms can play the lead… Agapanthus is a clumsy substitute indeed and I say that with full partiality!

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