Clivias, colour with a dash of history!

Text and photographs Sean Chubb

The Habitat Heritage collection is a priceless historical collection of rare and unusual Clivia originally wild collected from various natural Clivia habitats. These specimens have been collected over a long period of time by numerous people. It is both a living museum as well as a captive breeding project. This conservation initiative is housed in a naturally landscaped shade house especially built for the collection. Thurlow Flora the nursery of Sean Chubb is the home of the Habitat Heritage collection and is situated at Eston in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The collection is open for any interested parties to visit. The best time to visit this collection is in Miniata Flowering season from mid-August until mid-October, although during the Gardenii and Robusta flowering season in late May and early June the display is also spectacular.

Habitat Heritage Collection

Habitat Heritage Collection pond

The source of all genetic diversity is to be found in our natural habitat populations of Clivia. The outward expression of flower colour and form variation is the best recognizable manifestation of genetic diversity within Clivia. The conservation of these Natural habitats and the preservation of the diverse gene pool within them are paramount to the future of Clivia conservation. The genetic diversity essential for the future cultivation of Clivia and the ability of Clivia to adapt to changing environmental conditions may be lost. Genetic diversity as represented in the Habitat Heritage Clivia plants must be conserved and protected if Clivia cultivation is to have a secure future.

  • The objectives of the Clivia Habitat Heritage collection are:
  • To promote first and for most the conservation of Clivia in their natural habitats.
  • To encourage awareness of the diversity within Clivia.
  • To conserve and document as accurately as possible the history of Habitat Heritage Clivia clones.
  • To include and represent Habitat Heritage Clivia from all known Clivia species.
  • To preserve the diverse gene pool of Habitat Heritage Clivia.
  • To provide interested parties access to a gene bank of Clivia by providing living plants in their original clonal form, seed and pollen from habitat heritage Clivia.

Habitat Heritage Collection – Stanger clones

Habitat Heritage Collection – Eshowe clones

Habitat Heritage Collection – Mpumulu Yellow

Specimens of Clivia within the Habitat Heritage collection do not necessarily have to have been collected very long ago to have Heritage value. However, some of the older collected plants have interesting histories and have a particular place in the botanical history of Clivia. Each Clivia specimen within the Habitat heritage collection is a fragment in history and it is the responsibility of the curator of the collection to preserve it for perpetuity. The intrinsic value of a specimen is in direct proportion to the quality and quantity of the information accompanying it. This information is at least as valuable as the specimen itself. Unfortunately due to many reasons much of the history of some of the Habitat Heritage clones has been lost or distorted and some histories are kept as private secrets, lost to Clivia Heritage.

The Habitat Heritage collection should provide genetic material for breeding purposes and scientific studies. Captive breeding programs of rare habitat mutations would hopefully decrease the pressure from collectors on the wild populations. This would be done by providing sought after genetic material to potential collectors. The risk of poaching new genetic material hopefully would be too great if the genetic material is made available to collectors. The Habitat Heritage collection gene bank makes the conservation of our unique Habitat Heritage Clivia accessible to all interested parties.

Some interesting Clivia miniata mutations

There has been much confusion over the last century or more as to status of the yellow and other different coloured Clivia Miniata, since the first recorded example found in habitat. Subsequently a number of yellow and peach flowering plants have been found in habitat. Many of these clones have been passed along from one person to another, and along the way have acquired different names which has given rise to much confusion but also have a tale to tell.

Eshowe Clivia miniata var citrina

Clivia Miniata was already well known in cultivation in England, Belgium and elsewhere in Europe, having been discovered in the early 1850s, when the first yellow came to light in Eshowe, KwaZulu Natal, in 1888/1992.

Eshowe Yellow – original clone

In 1888/1892 the first Clivia Miniata Yellow Plant was found by a Zulu cook working for Sir Melmoth Osborne (the Resident Commissioner of Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal) whilst collecting firewood in the HLINZA Forest, Eshowe. Plants were given to Sir Charles Saunders who in turn sent a plant and a flower to his mother Mrs. Katharine Saunders. She did a watercolour painting of the flower, which in turn was sent together with a plant to Kew Gardens. The plant was later described and published as C. miniata. Regal var. citrina. W. Watson 1899.

The following is an extract from the book “FLOWER PAINTINGS OF KATHERINE SAUNDERS” published by the Tongaat Group (1979) with botanical notes and description by Prof. Emeritus A. Bayer.

“Yellow Imantophyllum from Eshowe, flower withered after being two days in postbag. Most lovely, delicate, peculiar shade of Yellow not Orange, but like straw-coloured mixed with pink quite inimitable by me October 8th 1893, this drawing has been sent to Kew Gardens with the bulb by Maud”. (Katherine`s daughter.) Imantophyllum was an earlier name for Clivia. Clivia miniata is one of the most striking and best known of all Natal flowering plants, occurring in all forests from Port St. Johns to Zululand and from the Coast to the Midlands. (More recent findings extend from the Kei River to Mpumalanga through Swaziland.) The flower colour varies from Cream through various shades of Yellow and Red to Dark Red. Some of the Yellow flowering heads are truly magnificent, it is little wonder therefore that Katharine Saunders was delighted with what was apparently her first view of these flowers. The plant sent to Kew by Maud was successfully established and flowered under glass in one of the greenhouses.”

Mrs. M.M.R. Robinson, the daughter of Sir Charles Saunders, inherited his plants and continued growing them in Pietermaritzburg until the mid 1960s. Sir Melmoth Osborne’s plant was grown by Mrs. Essie Osborne, whose husband was a nephew of Sir Melmoth. One of these plants was given to Mrs. Joyce De Villiers of Manderston outside Pietermaritzburg by her father Mr William E. Marriott curator of the Botanical Gardens Pietermaritzburg from 1906 to1910.

Giddy or Natal Yellow

Natal Yellow or Giddy Yellow Original

Cynthia Giddy collected this plant on a farm in the Bainsfield area near Richmond, KwaZulu Natal. The spread of the “Natal Yellow” throughout South Africa was partly due to a friend of Cynthia’s, Anna Höll, who bought a plant from her at the end of September 1978. Anna grew this plant in her garden in Swellendam to where she and her husband retired at that time. Typical of the “Natal Yellow” it suckered profusely and she gave away and sold many of these plants which can be found in collections around the country by different names e.g. Fred Gibello, Swellendam, Höll, Stella Parish, etc. The “Natal Yellow” is very easily distinguishable from other yellows because the tips of the older leaves are inclined to die back. It deserves to be recorded that the “Natal Yellow” is a wonderful horticultural subject. It is a robust plant that offsets well, has very attractive butter yellow flowers on well-presented heads.

Ndwedwe Alpha Thurston

This plant was found in August 1985 in the Upper Tongaat area of Indwedwe growing high in amongst the rock face above the Mona river. It is a robust plant. The colour is a rich cream and blooms are closely bunched together giving the umbel a good shape. There are up to 29 flowers on an umbel and they have a faint scent. There were no suckers present at the time of discovery. It has since produced suckers and appears to be self-sterile. When cross-pollinated it produces pigmented seedlings in spite of the berries ripening Yellow. When crossed back to Alpha a good percentage of unpigmented seedlings are produced.

Ndwedwe Alpha Thurston – Original

Chubb Peach

The original plant was collected in the Ngwahumbe River Valley, in Eston, KwaZulu Natal. It was found in a small patch of bush on the confluence of one of the tributaries and the Ngwahumbe River. The exact date of collection has not been accurately recorded but it was probably in the 1950s. No other plants of any colour variation have been collected from this area since. The Clivia population density in this area has also declined due to collection of plants by traditional healers.

Chubb Peach was the first ever Mutation to be recorded that was different from the original Yellow mutation of Clivia Miniata.

‘Chubb Peach’ forms a well filled spherical umbel presented well above the foliage. The flowers are a deep peach colour with a distinct fragrance. Petals and tepals have slightly wavy edges and have a slight difference in width. The peach colour seems to intensify as the florets age. On ripening the seedpods turn a rich peach caramel colour. ‘Chubb Peach’ does produce offsets and mature plants may produce 2 or 3 per annum.

Chubb Peach – original clone

The Habitat Heritage Collection is open to the public – for details visit: Thurlow Flora Clivia SA or contact Sean Chubb on – cell 0843019960.

Andrew Gibson

Appelblossom Q6


Intumeni Giant

King Hamelin Yellow

Lady of Oribi Gorge

Msubo Nguni

Mvuma Peach

Mvuma Yellow

Ndwedwe Fantasy Fair

Oribi Gorge Yellow

Origin of life

Skwebizi Bicolour

Stanger natural hybrid

Author photo: Pat McKrill

About the author

The interest in Clivia started at an early age while attending high school at Hilton College. Sean would collect and grow Clivia seed found growing wild in the forest. The real passion for Clivia colour breeding began in 1987 with a peach plant subsequently named Chubb Peach.

With a taste for the unusual and uncommon Sean’s efforts in breeding Clivia has concentrated on breeding and perpetuating rare colours and colour combinations. With a good grounding in genetics and a practical approach to Clivia breeding Sean’s passion for perpetuating rare colour forms has resulted in numerous pure breeding line bred families of rare Clivia colours being commercially available.

Sean is also passionate about conserving Clivia history and has probably the most complete collection of wild occurring Clivia mutations and colour forms. An important part of the Clivia collection at Thurlow Flora is “The Clivia Heritage Collection”, a living collection of rare historical plants. This is a conservation effort to preserve rare Clivia forms and thus Clivia history.

Thurlow Flora is a specialised Clivia nursery growing Clivia plants with pedigree and specialising in colour breeding.  Situated in Eston, predominantly a sugar and timber growing farming area. The climate is warm in the summers with night temperatures cooling, rainfall of about 1000mm per annum. Thurlow Flora experiences a high number of cool misty mornings and sometimes whole days. In the winter the night temperatures are generally below 10°C   but seldom experiencing frost. This climate has proved to be ideal for all Clivia species.