The Best of the Kaffir Lily
Originally native to Natal in South Africa the Kaffir Lily is a member of the genus Clivia nobilis in the family amarylis. An ornamental perennial, these shade lovers are also known as bush fly, crimson flag or drooping Clivia. They are reputed to be named after Lady Charlotte Florentina Clive, Duchess of Northumberland who is credited with being the first to cultivate them because of their lovely flowers, red berries and striking foliage.
This hardy variety adapts well to almost all zones and conditions as they require only some watering in the spring and summer and are fairly drought tolerant. In a colder climate where frost is a danger they are grown in pots and sheltered in winter. With a flowering season that starts around mid winter and continues into the summer months the Kaffir Lily is one of the plants that brighten up a year end garden.
While this variety is cherished for its beautiful flowers it is also a handsome plant when it is not in bloom. The Kaffir lily produces large beautiful flower clusters of 25–30 blooms that give off a light perfume and emerge from dark green strap like foliage arising in a fan shape from the crown. Their main growth activity is in early spring through fall. Not possessing an obvious bulb (rhizome), the Kaffir Lily has many stout, rope-like roots that specialize in water storage.
The flowers are tubular orange, yellow throated trumpets that hang from the stem. Though orange is the most common color the Kaffir Lily also comes in yellow to several whitish varieties. Green berries appear on pollinated flowers that eventually turn red over a period of months. When ready to bloom, thin stalks shoot up from the center of the crown. They reach heights of about 3 feet when they are in full show.
The Kaffir Lily grows in heavy shade but prefers filtered sun. Because of this they are perfectly situated for ground cover under trees or shrubs. When grown in light restricted conditions Clivia rarely flower but still make very useful and decorative landscaping additions. Yellow-tipped leaves are a sign of over watering
Propagation of the Kaffir Lily is best achieved by simple separation of the offsets. In the spring the root section should be covered with a thin layer of soil about 6” apart. Water and fertilize on a regular basis while in active growth, they need virtually no water during the winter months. They actually grow best when the root system is dense and compact so planting them in close proximity will produce stronger plants more quickly.
When the flowers of the Kaffir Lily die the red berries (seeds) that remain are very striking. These seeds drop off eventually and will grow but they take years to produce blooms. The durability of this plant makes it an excellent house plant needing little attention; resilient enough to survive a wide range of conditions. Because of their root bound nature they are perfectly suited for growing in containers, but to maintain healthy, steady growth divide the plant every three years.
The Kaffir lily is prone to mealy bugs and spider mites so be sure to give the plants a good looking over before bringing them in-especially if other plants will be involved. Another interesting fact about this plant is its link with the alkaloid Lycorine found in the roots. While having some medicinal value large amounts can cause people to experience stomach discomfort. Other general symptoms might include diarrhea, vomiting, salivation-even paralysis and/or collapse. Skin and mouth irritation can result from contact with the sap of the leaves.