Wurmbea dioica

Early Nancy

Family: Colchicaceae

Wurmbea dioica, Early Nancy, is a small perennial monocot-herb with a corm and a flowering spike to 30 cm tall.

It has a very large natural distribution, found over most of NSW, mostly from the tablelands areas westwards. It is found in western Sydney and there a a few records along the coast from South-West Rocks to Bermagui. It extends west commonly to Griffith and Mildura. It is sparsely found in the north-west of the state. It extends into Queensland, through the coast and tablelands, north to around Maryborough. It occurs though all of Victoria and the southern coast of South Australia, to as far north as Lake Torrens. It occurs acorss the eastern half of Tasmania and also occurs in Western Australia; in the south-west from Albany to around Kalbarri; and in the far eastern parts close to the South Australian border.

It grows in a variety of habitat including dry sclerophyll woodland and forest as well as coastal sand dune scrub and associated open vegetation, as well as paddocks. It is often found in moister areas such as creeklines and swampy flats.

Wurmbea spp. have simple grass-like leaves, which occur basally and on the flowering stem (cauline). In this species, there are reported to be three leaves, the lower two basal, linear to filiforme or lanceolate to 35 cm long by 0.5 cm wide; dark green; the higher third cauline leaf with a broadened base and with the tip narrowing to linear.

Wurmbea spp. have flowers produced in erect spikes or solitary. Some species are separarely male and female (dioecious) with others bisexual. In this species, flowers are in spikes of up to 11 flowers, to 30 cm tall; flowers have six tepals (petals and sepals which canot be differentiated), with flowers to 20 mm across; white with each tepals having a purple band (which is a nectary); appearring in spring; plants can be either bisexual or dioecious.

The fruit is a capsule. In this species, it is 1 cm long and contains 10-50 seeds.

In the garden

This is one species that is reportedly difficult to maintain in cultivation.

Gardeners who have adjoining bushland areas where this plant occurs, may be able to promote its spread through the garden.

It can be cultivated most successfully from transplants but seed can also be trialled.

It is best planted in full sun or part shade and grows on a variety of soils. Needs some water in dry times to keep it going.


Division or transplants works best. Seed also works.

Other information

Wurmbea dioica was previously known as Anguillaria dioica.

This species likely regenerates from seed as well as from the corms, after fire.

Wurmbea is a genus of 40 species, occurring in Australia and Africa. Australia has around 20 species, all endemic and found in all states and territories. NSW currently has 5 species.

Wurmbea – the genus is named after Christoph Carl Friedrich von Wurmb (1742 – 1781) a German botanist who contributed a lot to the taxonomy of palm trees.

dioica Latin referring to dioecious – the separation of male and female plants that can be observed in this species.

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Wurmbea dioica profile page https://resources.austplants.com.au/plant/wurmbea-dioica/

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

Greening Australia – Wurmbea dioica factsheet                          https://www.greeningaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/FACT-SHEET-Wurmbea_dioica.pdf


By Warren and Gloria Sheather. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke