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Growing Clivias in South Africa

Growing Clivias in South Africa

Clivia (otherwise known as bush lily, St. John’s lily and fire lily) is a must-have whether you’re a collector or a newbie to plants. This indigenous beauty is one of South Africa’s super stunners. There is something special about every plant, and clivia is no exception. Apart from beautiful trumpet-shaped and fragrant flowers in warm colours, they’re one of those plants that just thrives in the coolness of the shade. They are winter and spring flowering and add an uplifting glow to the garden at a time when it feels as if everything has gone dormant. In African tradition, having a clivia grow near one's home is believed to bring riches in children, cattle, crops, as well as good health. 

There are six species of clivia. Part of the fascination though has been with the breeding of the four other species  - C. nobilis, C. gardenii, C. caulescens, and C. miniata. Interestingly, C. nobilis and C. gardenii have drooping flowers rather than the upright cups many are used to seeing. Breeders have influenced the forms and colours within the species, having managed to produce pronounced qualities such as huge, broad petalled flowers, red, yellow or apricot colouration, broad leaves, fan-shaped leaf arrangement, variegation, dwarfism and many others. 

Originating from the understory of subtropical forests around the country, they're part of the Amaryllidaceae family (the same family as amaryllis).The world's love affair with South Africa's clivias began in the Victorian era when specimens were sent back to England. The discovery of the yellow-flowered Clivia miniata (C. miniata var. citrina) in the late 1800s fuelled an interest which still persists today. Today, the C. miniata are the most widely cultivated, and bear flowers ranging from deep red-orange to pale yellow. In 1813, English naturalist William J Burchell first discovered clivia at the mouth of the Great Fish River in the Eastern Cape. The name clivia, however, is after the Duchess of Northumberland, Lady Charlotte Clive, who first cultivated and flowered the type specimen in England.

Clivia miniata is easier to grow than an orchid (and like a cymbidium, are semi-epiphytic with roots) and elegant to boot, but has the constitution of a cast-iron plant. Clivia is a staple in the South African garden and can be grown in pots as a houseplant in a well-lit area, in the garden in dappled shade, or on a shady patio. Just make sure to pot them up in a well-draining pot, and pop them into a rich potting mix. They prefer to be kept rootbound, so don’t worry about repotting for about five years. Of course, growing them in the garden under trees is a breeze. Do bear in mind that if you are growing from a divided plant (per rhizomes) or from seed, you may have to wait a few years for flowers, so unless you’re really patient, buy mature plants. Some have likened its flowering time as “slow as a herd of snails travelling though peanut butter”!

Although mostly flowering in the later winter months, C. miniata can flower out of season at almost any time. The bonus is that even when not in flower, they keep their foliage all year round, and the red berry-like seed heads add a touch of interest to the early spring garden too. So much flower-power in return for minimal effort. If you’re keen to see them in all their glory, visit one of our splendid Botanical Gardens arboretum areas. Better yet, bring the persistent beauty of clivia to your own home and garden (if you haven’t already) and embrace their attractive display throughout the seasons. 

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