Cape Belladonnas in Madeira

Bulblist 11 May 2001

A few years back Les Hannibal informed us that Cape Belladonnas were introduced to Madeira centuries ago, and that some of these were brought to northern California by Portuguese immigrants. I never doubted his word, though I found that these were not mentioned by Sir Hans Sloane among the plants he collected when he visited the island for a few days in the late 17th century.

Well, I found a picture of Cape Belladonnas growing in Madeira in 'Plants and Flowers of Madeira', by Antonio da Costa and Luis de Franquinho, 1986.

Madeira, of course, was the "trick" the Portuguese used to reach the East Indies by sailing west (before they discovered Brazil). After reaching the island, they took a long and slanting route across the open sea to the Cape of Good Hope, and then around and on to the Philippines and all points north. According to Peter Martyr (Pietro Martire Vermigli, 1499-1562), Columbus lived on Madeira for a while.

I don't know yet whether the Cape Belladonnas reached Madeira directly from the Cape, or by way of Portugal. The trans Atlantic route allowed the ships to avoid the northward currents and winds along the coast of Africa, but these would have been favorable conditions on the trip home. So, it seems likely that plants from the Cape would have reached Europe first, and then have been passed over to Madeira.

4 Mar 2021

That’s how it seemed to me almost 20 years ago. Since then I have become far more skeptical of Les’s tale.

The variety that Les thought was the same as the Blank Specimen that somehow found its way into the Clifford Herbarium was almost certainly raised by Truffaut in the mid-19th century. It was likely derived from a Brunsdonna. Also, as I recall, the Cape Belladonna that is so wide-spread here in California was also identified as a Brunsdonna derivative, originally from Australia. I can’t find my notes on that one, however.

Meanwhile, here are two pictures of Belladonnas apparently growing as escapes in Madeira.

From Plants and Flowers of Madeira   Amaryllis belladonna pĺ Madeira on

PS: Naturalized Cape Belladonnas were also discovered by M. André in South America, They were believed to be native, and were named Hippeastrum Andreanum Baker. They were eventually identified properly.