YOU KNOW HOW you can live with someone for a long time and know their habits—but not really know them? Such is the case with certain of my longtime houseplants, including the “climbing onion” or Bowiea volubilis. The shocker: I simply had no idea that bowiea has appeared on YouTube nearly 7,000 times. I knew that bowiea, which I’ve grown for a decade or more, was not an onion at all but a South African member of the Hyacinth Family (formerly thought to be in the Lily Family, but don’t get me started on all those endless taxonomic shifts).
Lovers of succulents and oddball plants in general grow bowiea with most of its showy, round green bulbs above the soil surface, and with its twining filigree of stem-like foliage trained up onto some kind of support. That’s how the plant in my dining room (shown) is growing right now. Probably neither is what happens in the wild, but no matter; let the foliage climb up something or let it dangle; bury the bulbs a lot or hardly at all.
Order a baby at Logee’s, or better yet order three and cluster them in one pot for company. Each bulb can reach 8 inches in diameter over time, and as for the foliage—there seem to be no end to it (until it simply stops).
What matters is that you give it bright light and gritty soil and respect bowiea’s desire to sleep all winter. Stop watering it when the tendrils start to turn yellow and dry up in fall, then water not at all or very rarely when it is sleeping. I usually give it a little drink perhaps once a month in winter out of disbelief that it can live without, but it’s not needed. Just remember to forget about it more than fuss and you’ll both be happy together, forever after.