Herbs, usually with tunicate bulbs, rarely rhizomatous. Hairs infrequent. Leaves spiral or distichous in a basal rosette, usually linear to lorate, occasionally petiolate and lanceolate to elliptic. Inflorescences scapose, pseudoumbellate, often many-flowered. Flowers with free to fused tepals, stamens usually in 2 whorls of 3; ovary superior or inferior, usually 3-locular; pedicels not articulated. Fruit usually a capsule, rarely a berry. Seed globose to flat, with a black to brown phytomelanous coat.
Herbs with bulbs or rhizomes. Leaves in a basal rosette from the apex of the bulb or rhizome; petioles, if present, sometimes sheathing to form a false stem; blade simple, entire, linear to lanceolate or strap-shaped. Scape leafless, central or lateral in relation to the leaves, with 1–many flowers in an umbel-like inflorescence, subtended by an involucre of 1–many bracts and with ephemeral hyaline bracts between the flowers. Flowers showy, bisexual, 3-merous, regular or less often slightly irregular. Tepals in 2 series, equal to subequal, inserted above the ovary, free or partly united into a short or long tube; corona sometimes present. Stamens 3 + 3, opposite the perianth-segments, inserted at their base or in the tube; filaments free, partly fused with the perianth or united into a cup (false corona) at the base; anthers basifixed (not in East Africa) or dorsifixed, often versatile, introrse, opening lengthwise by slits. Ovary 3-locular, each locule with (1–2–) many axile ovules; style long and slender, with capitate or 3-lobed stigma. Fruit a capsule, often loculicidal, or a berry. Seeds globose or flattened, sometimes winged, with fleshy endosperm and small embryo.
Notes: The family is of great horticultural and ornamental value. The taxonomy of the cultivated species is complex and a thorough evaluation is beyond the scope of this Flora, but the following key gives an indication of the species recorded from gardens in East Africa. A few of these may be found as garden escapes, notably species of Zephyranthes and Hymenocallis littoralis.
Herbs with a tunicated bulbous rootstock or rarely a rhizome. Leaves few from the base of the stem or apex of the bulb, more or less linear, with parallel nerves and transverse secondary nerves. Flowers usually showy, bisexual actinomorphic, solitary to many and umbellate at the top of the scape, subtended by an involucre of two or more (rarely only one) usually membranous bracts. Perianth inserted below or usually above the ovary, petaloid, often withering and persisting, with or without a tube; segments or lobes 6, in 2 series, all equal and similar or the inner smaller or larger than the outer; corona often present. Stamens 6, opposite the segments, hypogynous or inserted on the tube or towards the base of the segments; filaments free or expanded at the base and connate and forming a "false" corona; anthers 2-locular, introrse, basifixed or versatile, opening by slits lengthwise. Ovary superior or inferior, 3-locular, with usually axile placentas; style slender, with a capitate or 3-lobed stigma. Ovules mostly numerous in each loculus. Fruit a capsule or a berry. Seeds with fleshy endosperm and small embryo, sometimes winged.
Erect, usually bulbous herbs, rarely rhizomatous. Usu. glabrous. Inflorescence scapose, umbellate in appearance, with 2 (rarely more) spathaceous bracts (rarely caducous or absent). Ovary superior or inferior. Fruit usu. capsular.
Look alikes: Colchicaceae (corms; cauline leaves; infls not pseudumbellate and scapose with spathaceous bracts), Alstroemeriaceae (not bulbous; resupinate cauline lvs,; infls. Not pseudumbellate and scapose with spathaceous bracts), and Asparagaceae (infl. usu racemose, if pseudumbellate spathaceous bracts (if present) not 2, not enclosing floral buds and plant with a corm or woody rhizome).
Pantropical but less frequent in Asian tropics/Australia; includes three subfamilies:
1) Allioideae (15 genera, ca 800 species): small flowers, ovary superior, alliaceous chemistry (smelling of onions or garlic). 3 genera (Allium, Milula & Tulbaghia) mainly in warm temperate/Mediterranean areas but present in tropics esp. Tulbaghia (African grasslands), Nothoscordum (S & C. America and as a weed); Allium ca 700 species, Tulbahgia 26, Milula 1, Nothoscordum ca 20).
2) Amaryllidoideae: usually big showy flowers, ovary inferior, alkaloid chemistry (no smell). 59 genera, ca. 850 species: this is the most tropical element of Amaryllidaceae with diversity especially in southern Africa and South America. Found in forest understorey (e.g. Scadoxus, Griffinia or Proiphys) to xeric or montane conditions, savannas or even near or in water (Crinum).
3) Agapanthoideae: rhizomatous with leaves in 2 ranks, large blue or white flowers, ovary superior, saponin chemistry (no smell), 1 genus (Agapanthus) of 9 species from South Africa.