Clivia gardenii growing in the Kloof/Everton area nature reserves

Text and photographs Val Thurston

I saw my first clivia in 1970 in the garden of Roy’s home down the South Coast. Although we had a garden at home when I was a child I had never come across this amazing and addictive plant and living in a town, was not exposed to the countryside where they grew naturally in the indigenous bush. When I saw these beautiful orange blooms I was immediately attracted to them but unable to take a plant home as, at the time I was not married and lived in a boarding house.

In 1973 Roy and I were married and moved to our own home in the Upper Tongaat. I was then given my first orange plants by Roy’s mother – and started my long, exciting and passionate hobby of clivia madness. The craze really hit me with a bang when I attended a garden wedding in Howick and saw a yellow specimen for the first time. I just had to have one! The owner of the plant promised to give me seed and eventually when the plant produced offsets I would get my plant! Well, 13 years later the owner of the Natal Yellow arrived at the house with my offset – I was over the moon as I now had 3 yellow clivia Celtiskloof Yellow, Howick Yellow and Natal Yellow. It turned out that this particular plant had been purchased at the then Natal Witness Garden Club from Cynthia Giddy and was later named “Natal Yellow” which is now part of the Clivia Heritage collection. I obtained my first peach clivia from Sean Chubb of Eston later named Chubb Peach.

I joined the newly formed KZN Clivia Club in 1994. The first KZN Club show was held at the Pietermaritzburg Botanical Gardens, where other yellow, pink and peach plants appeared. Emmi Wittig Pink graced the show tables, with eager clivia enthusiasts putting their names down for offsets. Numerous informative meetings were arranged, member numbers swelled and lots was learnt on how to propagate, pollinate and care for clivia. Seeds and plants of various different colours were exchanged and ‘clivia mania’ spread like wildfires!

44 years on I am still as passionate and obsessed as ever! I have an a small collection of many different colour variations and clones – bred my first attractive Fairytale Series and still hoping for yet more exciting results from the hundreds of seedlings growing in every bit of shade in my garden and hopefully many more years on the clock to continue my love of this amazing and fickle plant.

Everton Green Goblin

Clivia gardenii, was discovered by Major Roger J Garden in 1855, sent to Kew for identification and named by Sir W Hooker in 1856 in honour of the collector. All clivia are related to the Lily or Amaryllidaceae family. C.gardenii is closely related to the Clivia Miniata commonly known as the Bush Lily with a large upright umbel of orange flowers which has been in cultivation for many years.

Clivia gardenii, however, has long tubular, slightly curved flowers that hang in a pendulous manner. These plants have a fleshy rhizome type of root system, adapted to store water and will tolerate reasonably dry conditions. They grow naturally in shady positions of indigenous forests in and around Kloof, Everton and Hillcrest.

Clivia grow, naturally, in a well drained humus rich soil in amongst the roots of trees and rocks usually up on the leafy banks long the riverine areas. The plant has long fleshy roots that creep along the surface of the leafy forest floor.

Clivia gardenii offset (sucker) prolifically, producing large clumps of up to 20 or more plants, and have bright green, long strap-like shiny leaves, pointed at the end. The flowers hang in a pendulous manner on thick, juicy, upright stems or peduncles. Bunches of bright pendulous orange with a vivid green tip make a very attractive display during the KZN Winter months of May, June and July. Variation in flower colour, shape, and fullness of umbels can occur from area to area or within the same clone.

Sunbirds are the main pollinators of this species and flit around the blooms in the early morning. Other pollinators such as bees, wasps, ants and the wind also play their part in pollination. Berries take about 9 months to ripen to a bright orange/red colour and on rare occasions ripen, yellow or pink. The flesh on the berry is eaten by birds. The seeds, flesh and roots of Clivia are poisonous. Care should be taken when handling this species. Some species are used traditionally for medicine, to assist in childbirth and treat snakebites, but there is evidence that the chemical constituents in the rhizomes can be dangerous and harmful to humans.

Propagation may be by division – during late winter – or by seed. Berries may be harvested when ripe, peeled, washed in soapy water and planted in a well drained seedling mix in containers or directly into the ground. Seeds, which are cream and pearl-like in appearance and have one or two to a berry, must be placed on top of the soil and pushed in gently. Do not bury the seeds as they tend to rot. Keep soil moist as germination and growth to maturity is relatively slow. Position container in a shady position for about 18 months to 2 years – then plant into bigger containers or in the garden.

Clivia also make an excellent pot plant in a shady position, but do not do well in sunny hot areas and tend to become stunted with yellow leaves. Clivia tolerate an hour or two of early morning sun.

This species takes 4 to 5 years or more from germination to flowering in cultivation and possibly even longer in their natural habitat. Sadly, due to its popularity as a medicinal and plant collectors’ species, many populations of Clivia have been removed from their natural habitat to the detriment of the species.

Everton Pink

Author photo: Pat McKrill

About the author

Val’s interest in clivia was first sparked in 1970 when she saw an orange plant in Renishaw on the South Coast but the passion was really fired up after sighting a then rare yellow species named “Giddy” or “Natal Yellow” at a garden wedding in Howick. From there there was no turning back and she joined the KZN Clivia Club and was soon swopping plants at shows. Over the years she became more aware of the diversity and the fragile existence of this hardy indigenous species in the remaining pockets of natural indigenous forests in and around KwaZulu Natal. The need to conserve and protect this original genetic material in its natural habitat led her to start a breeding programme of what was available at that time. Today, Val has an extensive collection spread throughout her property in Kloof where she spends countless hours growing from seed and cross pollinating to get the best possible result from the thousands of seedlings she nurtures.