by Bruce Brethauer
Ledebouria socialis 'Violacea' has been a popular plant for many decades, It enjoys a wide appeal for its attractively mottled foliage, with darker green splotches against a paler, silvery green base. In this variety, the leaf underside is of a purplish coloration (in most other varieties, the leaf underside is of a uniformly green coloration). The foliage emerges from purplish-maroon surface bulbs. This plant spreads by producing numerous offsets, and may eventually spread to form a dense clump of many dozens of plants. Minute flowers are produced on spikes, each floret being approximately the size of a pin head. The strongly reflexed petals are green, with pale green to white margins. The filaments and the style are contrastingly marked in purple tones. Under magnification, these flowers are rather attractive, but realistically, these are too small for most growers to fully appreciate - no one grows these plants for their blooms. Ledebouria socialis 'Violacea' is native to the Eastern Cape of South Africa; it grows in part shade to shaded conditions in evergreen and scrub forests.
This plant has well deserved a reputation for being an easy and forgiving plant which is tolerant of lower light levels, (making it better suited to interior spaces than many other succulents). In spite of its popularity as a foliage plant, this plant is also appreciated by growers of South African bulb plants - in warmer Mediterranean climates, this plant can be grown as a perennial outdoors - it appears that this plant can survive brief exposure to at least a few degrees of frost. It is well adapted to regions which may experience seasonal drought. But it must be remembered that this plant is in fact a succulent species, with surface bulbs which serve as water reserves to help this plant survive periods of seasonal drought in habitat. It can survive a surprisingly long time without water without necessarily loosing it foliage in the process. It responds well to my general guidelines for growing succulents, with a few modifications: first of all, this plant is adapted to somewhat shaded sites, so if you are in the habit of moving your plants outdoors during the warmer months to benefit from exposure to daylight and rainfall, please remember to give this plant dapple shade, as full sun may scorch its leaves. During its growing season in spring and summer, this plant will benefit from frequent watering and regular applications of fertilizer - more so than many other succulents. A cooler and drier winter dormancy is necessary for this plant to initiate a typical growth cycle - without this dormancy, the plant may not flower at all, and it may not renew its leaves. As a house plant, its small size makes it a suitable plant for smaller pots, and dish gardens, but it can also be incorporated into the pots of much larger house plants to provide an attractive and low maintenance "ground cover" for these plants. This plant is easy to propagate by division of the clumps, or by transplanting even a single bulb. While it may be possible to propagate plants from seed, I cannot report on this, as I have not tried this myself, nor do I know of anyone who has tried this. While this plant is free of spines, there are reports that the entire plant is toxic, and pets can become extremely ill if they ingest any part of the plant, so this plant and other varieties of this species may not be a suitable choice for all households.
While I have never seen this plant offered art any of the "Big Box" nurseries, it is readily available from a number of mail order and online nurseries. The Glasshouse Works, and Bob Smoley's Gardenworld, frequently stock this plant and other varieties of this species, and starts can frequently be found at regional Cactus and Succulent Society sales.