The autumn bulbs are starting to appear again at Phillipskop. Drimia media is one of the first of these. It has rather subdued colouration to its flowers, but the petals glisten in the sunlight rather like tarnished metal. The petals are swept back, thrusting forward the stamens and style so that they can transfer the pollen onto any visiting insect. The spike contains many flowers but only a few are open at a time; the old flowers close-up again and look like the buds that are about to open. At the base of the spike are a cluster of needle-like leaves.
Scientific names are often descriptive or informative about the plant but the name Drimia media is quite unhelpful. “Media” means “in the middle” or “halfway between”, but in the middle of what? To elucidate why the name was coined one has to go back to the original description and see what the author said. The first painting of Drimia media was beautifully illustrated in 1795 as part of Jacquin’s Icones Plantarum Rariorum. A description of it was published a year later in his Collectaneorum Supplementum but there is no indication here of why he felting it was “medium”. One has to extrapolate that the other species known at the time included Drimia elata (tall drimia) and Drimia pusilla (dwarf drimia). This species was obviously somewhere in between the two.
Drimia is a genus in the subfamily Scilloideae, which includes hyacinths and bluebells as well as many South African bulbs such as Lachenalia and Eucomis. The subfamily is easily recognised by having bulbs with a basal rosette of leaves and and raceme of 6-petalled flowers each with 6 stamens. Within the South African members, Drimia can be recognised by having a small spur at the base of the bract subtending each flower (most obvious on the lowest flowers). The flowers themselves are rarely brightly coloured, usually in shades of white to brown. Drimia media itself is easy to diagnose in the Cape, as it is autumn flowering, with strongly recurved petals, yet the numerous stiff upright needle-shaped leaves are present at the same time (most other autumn-flowering Drimia flower before their leaves appear).