South Africa Plant LifeThe Kniphofia gracilis
Kniphofia is a large genus of plants in the Asphodelaceae family. Kniphofia species are from Africa mostly, especially South Africa and many of the popular cultivars available today originated from South African species.
The common name for all species of Kniphofia is 'poker' or 'red hot poker', because of the stunning flower heads which are red or orange-red in colour. The lovely Kniphofia gracilis is a popular garden plant in both English and South African gardens and has been for well over a hundred and fifty years. This is hardly surpirising given the marvellous display the Red Hot Pokers provide in a garden setting.
The flowers look like bottlebrush-shaped heads which resemble the glowing embers in flaming fires - hence the name 'Red Hot Poker'. The plants derive their nourishment from rhizomes growing well below ground level and it is from these rhizomes that the leaves arise, long spikey or strap-like leaves that grow in attractive clumps.
Standing about 1m tall when fully grown, Kniphophia gracilis is a perennial flowering plant. The flower stalk develops from the centre of the arching, grass- or strap-like leaves in midsummer and stand some 1.5m tall, thereby creating a stunning spectacle in the garden, especially when planted amidst shrubs and other low growing perenniels.
The flowers are made up of closely packed buds that open up to shades varying from yellow to orange and a bright red with some flower spikes creating a lovely two-tone effect.
The plant start to flower in midsummer and will adorn your garden with its wonderful display right through to mid-end Autumn and sometimes into winter (depending on the area).
Use in the garden
Besides its obvious decorative effect, Kniphofia attract many nectrar-loving insects including bees. Birds that are attracted to the flower are sunbirds which happily pollinate the lovely flowers. According to Pitta Joffe in her book "Creative Gardening with Indigenous Plants", Kniphofia attract both white- and black bellied sunbirds, so they are a great addition to any 'bird garden'.
Kniphofia gracilis has an extensive distribution through the province of KwaZulu Natal. It extends through the grasslands from Zululand down to Pondoland, and from the coast to the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountain Range. It is hardy, thanks to its deciduous nature, and can survive even dramatic drops in temperature, despite its hot and balmy natural habitat.
Growing Kniphofia in your garden
Soil requirements are simple: moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil, although they will tolerate sandy and chalky soil making them ideal in coastal gardens. Plant in a full sun position for maximum flowering.
Propogation is by division of the rhizomes after flowering or when cliumps become overcrowded, or plant from seed. Although easily grown from seed, they will take up to two years to flower.
• Creative Gardening with Indigenous Plants (A South African Guide) ~ by Pippa Joffee
• PlantzAfrica.com website by SANBI.
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