Bomarea is a tuberous member of the the family Alstroemeriaceae. There are about 100 species, some of which are non-climbing, growing more like a ground cover, although the majority are climbers. They are found from Mexico on South, through the tropics and into the Andes, down to Southern Chile, and are mostly plants of the forest understory, where they grow through adjacent vegetation in lightly shaded conditions. Some species are coastal, growing in the fog belt of Chile, so, not surprisingly they do very well in Coastal California. Other species can only be found in the high altitude Páramo of South America. Bomarea is related to Alstroemeria where both flowers and leaves demonstrate this close relationship. The most current phylogenetic studies support these two genera as distinct. Morphologically, these two genera can be differentiated with capsule and seed coat characters. Alstroemeria has explosive capsules with a brown seed coat whereas Bomarea does not have explosive capsules and the seeds are covered by a red fleshy sarcotesta layer. The beautiful flowers of this genus are produced in a dense umbel at the end of the growing shoots. Each umbel can be composed of as many as 30-45 flowers if well grown, with flowers consisting of three outer tepals and three inner, sometimes of contrasting colors.
Growing from seed is not difficult. Collect seeds when the capsules have mature. Rub and wash away the red sarcotesta layer as it inhibits germination. Sow the seeds in a well drained mix (1:1 organic:inorganic is good) and keep the soil moist. It takes about 3 months for seedlings to appear. In the Bay Area, seeds mature in the fall and if sown in October, they will sprout in January. It is anecdotally thought that if the seeds dry out, they will not germinate. Once seedlings have grown 3-4 leaves, they can be spit up and repotted.
Seedlings will remain about the same size in a small pot for years but once they are put into a larger pot (such as a 1 gallon (~3 L) pot) they will take off and flower in 2-3 years. The best and largest blooming comes from plants that have established in the ground for several years. Growing plants do better with occasionally fertilizing. Division of plants can be made although it severely weakens the parent plant. But if a division is necessary, make sure that the new division has some growing points (see photos below) with at least one storage tuber. The tubers are only for storage and no new plants can be grown just from the tubers alone.
Bomarea acutifolia From Mexico and Costa Rica, this species is probably not as hardy as the others. However, in good growing conditions it can be very vigorous, growing into trees as seen below. Photos 1-2 were taken by Susan Hayek of a plant grown by Diana Chapman of Telos Rare Bulbs. Photos 3-5 by Nhu Nguyen shows an inflorescence and the vigorous habit of this species. At the Strybing Arboretum where these photos were taken, the very large clump has climbed into a Mexican weeping pine (Pinus patula) mimicking how these plants might grow in habitat.
Bomarea caldasii is an evergreen climbing species from Northern South America flowering in late spring/early summer. The first photo is from Rob Hamilton, the second from Susan Hayek of plants grown by Diana Chapman of Telos Rare Bulbs and the last shows a plant grown by David Victor in his greenhouse and flowering in February 2005.
Bomarea edulis (syn. B. hirtella) is a very widespread species from the Caribbean south to Brazil. There are currently seven accepted varieties. Flowers are arranged in an open inflorescence that ranges from salmon to magenta pink with spotting on both the inner and outer petals. Photo 1 from Dennis Szeszko shows a form July, 2006 in Donato Guerra district, Mexico State at around 2500 meters above sea level. In Mexico, this species has a distribution from Tamaulipas to Chiapas along the gulf coast and from Jalisco to Chiapas along the Pacific coast. The plants grow wild in shaded conditions with lots of humus around its roots in humid cloud-forests. Photo 2 from David Victor is of a plant in his greenhouse flowering in August 2005. Whilst it shows some similarities to the plant shown under B. hirsuta, it is only four feet or so tall and the flowers are rather smaller. Photos 3-4 were taken by Nhu Nguyen of a form common in cultivation, probably very similar to the forms in photos 1 & 2. Although this form makes small flowers, the seed pods are very large.
The photos below by Nhu Nguyen grown by Jacob Uluwehi Knecht is from mid-elevation Colombia. The inflorescence is broadly open, expanding to about 30 cm (1 ft.) and each flower is 5 m (1.5 inches) long. The last photo show the fruits which too more than half a year to ripen.
Bomarea hirsuta (syn. B. kalbreyeri) is a vigorous, climbing plant that grows up to ten feet or so. It is found in Ecuador and Costa Rica. The photo below from David Victor is a picture of a plant grown as Bomarea kalbreyeri and is shown flowering in December.
Bomarea ovata grows in the coastal desert of Peru and in drier parts of cordilleras of Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina twining in small shrubs and over rocks or erect at altitudes between 100 m and 3700 m (Hofreiter & Rodríguez, 2006). Pictures were taken near the coast of Lima in August of 2015. Photos by Norton Cuba.
Bomarea patacoensis is from Colombia and Peru. The outer petals are scarlet with inner petals that open yellow and turn to deep red spotted heavily with darker red. It grows 8-12 ft. Grown by Diana Chapman of Telos Rare Bulbs and photographed by Susan Hayek.
Bomarea petraea is from Peru. Photo 1 below was taken by Susan Hayek of a plant grown by Diana Chapman of Telos Rare Bulbs. This clone grows to about four feet tall producing dense clusters of orange-red flowers, the inner petals marked with maroon. Photos 2-5 were taken by Nhu Nguyen at the Strybing Arboretum of two different clones.
Bomarea salsilla is a deciduous climbing species from Chile that flowers in late spring/early summer . The first photo was taken by Rob Hamilton, the second by Bob Rutemoeller in Harry Hay's gardens, and the third taken by David Victor of a plant growing in his greenhouse and flowering in May 2005. The fourth photo taken by Mary Sue Ittner of the storage organ during dormancy on a 1 cm. square grid
Photo 1 by Mary Sue Ittner is of a Bomarea flowering in May in Sandy Scott's Northern California garden. The plant tag did not have a species name on it. Photo 2 by Jacob Uluwehi Knecht shows a pure yellow Bomarea that grows in the San Francisco Botanical Garden's American cloud forest section.
The photos below from Jacob Uluwehi Knecht and Nhu Nguyen shows a well-known plant at the Strybing Arboretum/San Francisco Botanical Garden. It is a huge plant that produces huge inflorescences of yellow flowers without spots. It is known on the internet as several names such as Bomarea aff. superba or according to the Neotropical Flora site, it is listed under Bomarea borjae or Bomarea multiflora. However, the name B. multiflora appears to have spots.
The photos below were taken by Nhu Nguyen showing various aspects of this genus including seeds, roots, storage organ and seedlings.