Massonia depressa (hedgehog lily)
A remarkable bulb from South Africa, hedgehog lily has a pair of leaves pressed flat onto the ground, and a head of small white or pinkish flowers, like a shaving brush, nestled between them.
About this species
The 13 species of Massonia all have a pair of leaves pressed to the ground. They appear in autumn, and are smooth, hairy or pustulate, sometimes with purple streaks. In winter and spring a brush-like inflorescence of numerous flowers with stiff, upright stamens appears between the leaves. In many cases, the scented flowers are pollinated by bees or butterflies, but in the case of M. depressa, the flowers smell yeasty and are pollinated by small rodents, including two species of gerbil. The seeds have a winged, inflated capsule, enabling wind dispersal.
Geography & Distribution
Native to South Africa, where it is found in Northern and Western Cape Provinces, from Namaqualand to Langkloof, in Free State and in the Karoo.
A bulbous plant with leaves up to 25 cm long and 15 cm across, which are usually smooth and sometimes spotted. The flowers are green, cream, white or pinkish, with a tube 3–17 mm long. The stamens have stiff filaments, 8–18 mm long, which are united to form a short tube at the base. The style is 5–14 mm long. The fruit is a three-winged capsule.
The genus Massonia is named after Francis Masson, a Scottish student gardener at Kew who was sent to the Cape by Sir Joseph Banks in 1772 to collect seeds and plants for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Masson’s first visit lasted from 1772 to 1775, and while there he met and travelled with Carl Thunberg, a student of the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. Masson himself became a competent botanist, as well as a successful plant collector, and wrote and illustrated a book on stapeliads (succulents belonging to the Apocynaceae plant family). Masson travelled widely in the Cape over a period of 12 years, making collections of over 500 species which were sent to Kew.
Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine
Hand-coloured engraving of Massonia depressa (as M. latifolia) by Sydenham Edwards in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (1805).
Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.
Now well over two hundred years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.
Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.
See the Wiley-Blackwell Subscription Information page for rates (for both print and online).
Hedgehog lily is cultivated as an ornamental and is valued as a curiosity on account of its leaves being closely pressed to the ground and its ‘shaving brush’ flowers. The Cape region (and the Succulent Karoo in particular) contains a large number of ‘prostrate-leaved geophytes’ (bulbous plants with flattened leaves that are pressed to, or which lie prostrate on, the ground). The adaptive significance of this growth form may include (among others) the avoidance of being eaten by grazing animals, the reduction of water loss from the soil around the roots or from the leaves, and temperature regulation of the leaves. But why so many species from different families exhibit this growth form in the Cape and Karoo regions of South Africa, as compared to arid and semi-arid regions elsewhere in the world, is something of a mystery and still under investigation.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
The Millennium Seed Bank partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in Kew's seed bank vault at Wakehurst.
Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: Two.
This species at Kew
Hedgehog lily can be seen in the Davies Alpine House at Kew during the winter.
Pressed and dried specimens of Massonia depressa are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of some of these, including images, can be seen on-line in the Herbarium Catalogue.
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
- Asparagus officinalis (garden asparagus)
- Camassia leichtlinii (great camas)
- Chlorophytum tuberosum (musli)
- Dracaena jayniana (red dragon tree)
- Drimia maritima (maritime squill)
- Eucomis bicolor (pineapple lily)
- Hyacinthoides non-scripta (bluebell)
- Ophiopogon planiscapus (lilyturf)
- Paradisea liliastrum (St Bruno’s lily)
- Scilla verna (spring squill)
The coral tree has nothing to do with coral reefs – the name comes from the stunning bright red colour of the flowers, which appear in profusion on the tree when it is still without leaves.
- newly discovered
- around the world
- of use
- ground breaking
- english garden
- garden plants
Plants & Fungi blogs from Kew
10 May 2013
With a host of new pests and diseases attacking the United Kingdom’s native treescape, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank is tackling the threat by establishing the country’s first national collection of tree seeds – the UK National Tree Seed Project.
13 Mar 2012
Filmed over the course of a year at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Kingdom of Plants 3D provides a fascinating new look at plant life using stunning 3D time-lapse filming techniques. Own your personal copy today following the DVD and Blu-ray release.
08 Nov 2012
A new study from Kew suggests that Arabica coffee could be extinct in the wild within 70 years.
18 May 2010
Kew’s top propagation ‘code-breaker’, horticulturist Carlos Magdalena, has cracked the enigma of growing a rare species of African waterlily. The 'thermal’ lily (Nymphaea thermarum) is believed to be the smallest waterlily in the world, with pads that can be as little as 1 cm in diameter.