Climbing Alstroemeria

Bomarea edulis and the seeds (inset).
Bomarea edulis and the seeds (inset). / FLICKR
  • Bomarea edulis is an attractive twining vine native to the oak forests of South America and Mexico

Bomarea is a genus of plants with around one hundred species, the majority of which are climbers. It is a member of the Alstroemeriaceae family and has similar leaves and flowers. Bomarea is native to South America and Mexico and is found in mountainous zones, usually on the edge of oak forests, preferring partial shade to full sun. It is not frost resistant when young but once established will die back in the winter and reshoot in the spring. The main flowering period is from early summer through to autumn.

Bomarea edulis is the most common garden species and is commonly called the climbing Alstroemeria. It has grey-green, lance-shaped leaves and dense umbels of tubular blooms. The blooms are usually orange or red with greenish-yellow or orange on the inside. It climbs by twining so will need a support, and can reach three to four metres high.

Although some species of Bomarea are evergreen in moderate climates, B. edulis is usually deciduous, rarely keeping any of its leaves during cool weather.

The tuberous roots are harvested for food in Peru; they are boiled and are rich in starch. However the sap in the stems and leaves, although not poisonous, contains a chemical that can cause skin irritation in some people.

B. edulis can take several years to get established and reach full blooming potential. It can be propagated by division when it is dormant but the tubers are brittle and disturbance can weaken the plant. The best way is to collect the red seeds as soon as the pods are ripe, rub off the red coating and sow straight away.

Other species available are B. acutifolia, which is not as hardy as B. edulis, and B. odorata which grows in the desert areas of Peru and is therefore more drought resistant.

Not all species are climbers; B. boliviensis for example is excellent for ground cover and can be grown in a container.