Bicolour, aethiopica and floribunda - The Chasmanthe

The beautiful Chasmanthe is from the Iridaceae (or iris) family. Its original habitat is South Africa and it is pollinated primarily by sunbirds.

Did you know? The Cape Town Company's Garden were established by Jan van Rieebeck in the 1650's as a fresh produce garden for the purpose of re-victualling ships and providing Cape Town's colonists with veggies.

There are three main subspecies of Chasmanthe, all of which are pretty to look at and make for colourful additions to any garden.

Chasmanthe bicolour

Also known as the two-colour cobra lily and the suurkanolpypie, this is an ornamental garden flower that is striking, with bright orange on the upper side and dark green and yellow on the underside. It grows to about 1.3 metres high; the silky leaves leave brown scales (tunics) at the bottom of the stem and are arranged in a fan shape.

Flowering time

The Chasmanthe bicolour flowers between June (the middle of winter in South Africa) and September (spring).

Use in the garden

Sunbirds are particularly attracted to the Chasmanthe bicolour. These colourful little birds make for welcome additions to your garden.

Natural distribution

Sadly, these plants are threatened in their wild habitat, facing a risk of extinction. Today, there are only about 10 known places in which to find them. They are endemic to the Western Cape, usually near streams or in ravines that are sheltered from harsh weather conditions. They are found mainly in the area of Robertson, also famous for its wines.

Growing Chasmanthe bicolour in your garden

The Chasmanthe bicolour grows best in semi-shaded, sheltered areas, even in a pot.


Sunbirds have the perfectly shaped beak to insert into the flower. As they drink the nectar, the pollen sticks to their heads, for transfer to another part of their habitat. It can also be grown from seed quite easily.

Chasmanthe aethiopica

The spiky, orange flowers of the Chasmanthe aethiopica are tubular, complemented by pale green leaves. These flowers curve outwards, leaning almost perpendicular to the stem.

Use in the garden

The Chasmanthe aethiopica is attractive to look at, making it a pretty ornamental bloom for the garden.

Flowering time

The Chasmanthe aethiopica flowers between autumn and winter, which is from April to May.

Natural distribution

It is commonly found growing along the coast of south and southwest Africa. It tends to be found in the coastal bush vegetation, preferring the clay soils. The photograph above was taken on Table Mountain in Cape Town where it grows wild.

Growing Chasmanthe aethiopica in your garden

This plant does particularly well in soils that have a good drainage system. They thrive during winter, and should not be watered in summer. In fact, they should be kept dry (as far as possible) during this dormant stage. It prefers temperate conditions and flowers when it is not pruned or moved.


The Chasmanthe aethiopica is pollinated mainly by pretty sunbirds, which come to drink its nectar. As they do, the pollen clings to their head. In addition, fruits burst open when ripe. The flesh and seeds are eaten by birds, which then leave the seeds further afield in their droppings.

Chasmanthe floribunda

The yellow cobra lily or geelpypie, as the Chasmanthe floribunda is also known, boasts beautifully bright yellow tubular blooms. The spiky flowers are set off by sharp leaves, which leave brown, scaly bases on the leaf, called a tunic. It forms a fruit that has characteristic orange seeds.

Use in the garden

It attracts a number of insects and insect-eating birds, so the Barleria albostellata is a great shrub for those that want these little creatures in their garden.

Flowering time

The Chasmanthe floribunda is dormant during the summer, and comes alive in autumn and winter.

Natural distribution

This variety of Chasmanthe is part of the Cape Floral Region and is endemic to South Africa. It has been showcased at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.

Growing Chasmanthe floribunda in your garden

This plant does well in sunny or semi-sunny spots that receive enough water. The soil should have an effective drainage system. It is fairly easy to grow in the garden. While they should be watered well during their blooming time, it will not damage the plant to allow the soil to be wet during summer, when it is dormant.


Best propagated by seed or offsets. The corm that forms naturally can be taken off the plant when it is in its dormant stage and then planted again in autumn. The plant can form dense bush, even splitting into separate plants as it matures.

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