Red hot poker - The 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.

Did you know? 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.

Flowering time

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'.

Natural distribution

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 website by SANBI.

Plan your trip

If you plan to travel South Africa to visit our magnificent botanical gardens and to enjoy our diverse plant life and unspoiled wilderness, click here to start your search for accommodation in South Africa for your holiday. We wish you happy exploring and travelling.

Also See

Botanical Gardens / Landmarks / Mandela Route

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is world renowned for the beauty and diversity of the Cape flora it displays and for the magnificence of its setting against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Kirstenbosch grows only indigenous South African ...

Botanical Gardens

Oppenheimer Gardens

In the midst of Soweto, on the corner of Majoeng and Ntsane Streets, you will find a garden. Actually it looks as if it could be a forest, the many trees of the garden are so dense, and it certainly qualifies as a bird sanctuary for this reason. The ...

Botanical Gardens

Pretoria National Botanical Gardens

The gardens contain indigenous plants from all over South Africa, including cycads and aloes, grouped according to their climatic region, all clearly marked. They are especially attractive in winter when many different species of aloe are in flower, and ...

Important Floristic Regions
Plant Life
South Africa. Explore. Experience. Stay® has been assisting travellers with their South Africa travel plans since 1999, and is the largest, independent online travel guide for South Africa available in both English and German.

Never miss a deal

Subscribe for the latest special offers and travel inspiration.

And, we'll send you a R200 voucher to use on your next booking.