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Clivia — an elegant winter bloomer

Clivia flowers are usually orange with yellowish centres, but there are forms that bear scarlet, dark red, salmon, and yellow flowers.

Clivia flowers are usually orange with yellowish centres, but there are forms that bear scarlet, dark red, salmon, and yellow flowers.

 

Clivia is a wonderful flowering plant. Elegant and imposing, it’s easier to grow than an orchid and more unusual than an amaryllis. A Clivia plant will produce dense clusters of lily-like flowers. Equally important, the strap-like, dark evergreen leaves are virtually blemish free, making Clivia an attractive foliage plant, even when not in bloom.

Given the regal quality of the plant, a Clivia is surprisingly easy to grow. Clivia are hardy, low maintenance, shade-loving plants. They don’t like wet feet and need to be well-drained, may tolerate a little early morning sun, but prefer full shade, and are frost tender.

Clivias were once only grown in the darkest, shadiest parts of older gardens and they are now at the height of popularity. Clivias will tolerate low water requirement once they have become established. Most Clivia flowers come in shades of orange. A few choice varieties bloom in bright red, yellow or cream, but these are not always available.

This ornamental genus of durable shade plants in the Amaryllis family is one of the more primitive genera of the Amaryllidaceae. They have neither bulbs nor rhizomes, but possess an abundance of thick rope-like, bulbous roots. They are evergreen, herbacous plants and have predominantly orange, red or salmon coloured flowers. Their native habitat may diverge from subtropical coastal forest to ravines in the high altitude forest.

Six species of Clivia are endemic to South Africa, the most commonly grown being Clivia miniata, which is now cultivated all around the world. They grow naturally in the forests and bush lands of the subtropical regions from the Eastern Cape Province to Mpumalanga Province in the northeast. Species in this genus include, Clivia miniata and C. robusta being the most variable and commonly grown. The other three species, C. gardenii, C. caulescens and C. nobilis have only recently become more known and widespread. C. mirabilis originates from an area of South Africa that experiences a semi-arid Mediterranean climate with winter rain of approximately 400 mm a year, dry summers, light frost in winter and maximum temperatures of up to 45oC in summer. It is extremely difficult to propagate.

Many Clivia growers are using the species to create interspecific (the crossing or breeding of two species the same genus), hybrids. This is resulting in many varied shapes and colours in Clivia.

In September 1815 the first scientific collection of a Clivia was made near the mouth of the Great Fish River in (what is now) the Eastern Cape Province by the intrepid explorer and naturalist William Burchell. Similar plants were collected from the same area a few years later in the early 1820’s by James Bowie and sent to England, where in 1828 Kew botanist John Lindley described them as Clivia nobilis in honour of Lady Charlotte Florentine Clive, Duchess of Northumberland.

Traditional healers and Clivia enthusiasts remove large quantities of this plant which threatens their survival in their natural habitat. Fortunately when plants are removed much of the root is left behind. These roots regenerate to form new young plants. The inhospitable marshy habitats do not prevent these collectors from removing plants. Traditional healers use the plant to ease childbirth, as a painkiller and in the treatment of snakebite.

As a member of the amaryllis family, Clivia shares many common characteristics with the more familiar amaryllis. Like the amaryllis, the dark green, strap-like leaves of a Clivia are strongly two-ranked. This means the 60cm long strap-shaped leaves arise from the soil, directly opposite one another in an alternating sequence.

Because the leaves are produced in an alternating sequence and they arch directly over one another, a mature Clivia plant will develop a strikingly formal silhouette with almost perfect symmetry, forming what looks like a large flattened vase.

While a Clivia plant does not have a true bulb, the swollen clasping leaf bases of a mature Clivia plant quite clearly demonstrate an incomplete development of a dense bulb-like structure, with roots emerging from the base, and leaves emerging from the crown.

Clivia miniata is the one most commonly found in cultivation. In late winter or spring, tall stalks shoot up from the leaves and bear crowded clusters of brightly coloured blossoms, after reaching 3-5 years of age. These evergreen plants typically have a large head (umbel) of between 12 and 20 trumpet shaped flowers on top of a thick stem.

Their long-lasting flowers are usually orange with yellowish centres, but there are forms that bear scarlet, dark red, salmon, and yellow flowers. Clivias enjoy much more popularity in Europe, Japan, China, and Australia than North America. They are also grown with enthusiasm in their country of origin as well as in New Zealand.

Clivia robusta is probably one of the tallest members of the genus as it can grow to a height of 1.6 m in ideal conditions. It is a strong grower and thrives in swamp conditions. The flowers are pendulous and range from various shades of orange to yellow with green tips. The yellow flowering form has now been described as a new variety of C. robusta and is known as var. citrina.

To the naked eye it is difficult to distinguish Clivia robusta from C. gardenii. C. robusta tends to be more robust with broader leaves than C.gardenii. Plants flower in late autumn to midwinter, producing pendulous flowers ranging from pale to dark orange with green tips. The peduncles or flower spikes are strong and hold the inflorescence above the foliage. The berries are round, green ripening to orange. Under ideal conditions, Clivia robusta is long-lived, produces buttress roots in very wet areas and can grow to a height of 1.6 m.

Clivia nobilis (also known as Drooping Clivia) boasts drooping clusters of pretty orange flowers, tipped with green. Cultivation requirements are the same as those of other Clivia.

clivia-compwc-lores-2Unlike many other plants, Clivias survive in bright or dim light, in soil that is moist or dry. They prefer well-drained, organic soil in bright light with early-morning or late afternoon sun but shaded in between, as direct sun will cause leaf scorch. The ability of these plants to survive under conditions unsuitable for most other plants makes them remarkably tough house plants, and ideal candidates for growing in those locations where few other plants seem to thrive.

GROWING CLIVIAS

Clivias should be planted in autumn or spring. Cover the plump roots with just a thin layer of soil. The white part of the stem should be almost buried. Clivias need to be watered and fertilized regularly while in active growth. Afterward, water sparingly. If growing Clivias in containers, avoid disturbing them. Try to divide them only when they become overcrowded.

Clivias can be increased by division, but are most often propagated by separation of offsets, in late spring or early summer after the plants have flowered. After about three or four years, plants will usually begin producing one or more offsets each year. When an individual offset has developed three or four leaves of its own, it can be cut from the parent plant, being careful to include some roots, and placed in small pots of its own.

For best results, Clivias should be grown in bright diffused light, with the growing medium kept evenly moist during spring and summer. If the plants are allowed to become quite dry for two months in winter, and the growing temperature is lowered to approximately 10 - 15°C, the plants can also be encouraged to flower. Once a flower stem has begun to emerge, watering can be increased, and plants moved to a location with normal growing temperatures.

If the flowering stalk fails to elongate, leaving the cluster of flowers compressed between the leaves near the base of the plant, it is most often caused by the plant not having the proper rest period. Where Clivia plants are grown in low light conditions, they will rarely flower, but will serve as reliable foliage plants.

Little is known about the pollinators of Clivia and studies are now being undertaken to discover what pollinates it. Seed is dispersed by birds.

Suitable companion plants are Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. Katharinae, Crinum moorei, Plectranthus spp, Stangeria eriopus, Asparagus densiflorus and Encephalartos villosus.

Before planting, prepare the area well by digging over and applying a generous quantity of well decomposed compost. The compost needs to be dug in. Plant the Clivias half a metre apart as they are tall, strong growers. To maintain good quality plants and displays it is important to replant every five years. Thorough preparation of the site after lifting the Clivia is essential. Dig over the area and then apply a liberal application of compost before replanting. It is also an opportunity at this time to divide the plants to increase the size of the planting if necessary.

Each year in the autumn, apply a generous layer of compost around the plants. They derive a lot of benefit from this as they are not deep rooting plants. In the summer an application of organic fertilizer can be broadcast around the root area of the plants. Alternatively, broadcast a layer of old manure around the root area.

PROPAGATION

Propagation of Clivia is either from seed or division. As the berries start colouring, they can be harvested and all of the soft tissue should be removed. Before sowing, wash the seeds in a mild fungicide solution. The clean seeds can now be sown in a medium of milled pine bark by pressing them into the medium just below the surface. It is important to keep the bark moist at all times. This milled bark needs to be fairly fine when sowing seeds.

The seeds germinate within a month and after six months the seedlings should be transplanted into 15 cm pots, planting three to a pot to allow sufficient space for the plants to develop. Use a coarse growing medium of 12 mm bark must now be used.

Clivias are slow growers so it is important not to allow the young plants to stress as this slows down their growth. Stress is caused by lack of water, high light intensity, overheating, lack of food and poor drainage. Feed every two weeks with a general fertilizer at the recommended strength and replant the young plants at least once a year with fresh growing medium. All growing mediums deteriorate in time, become more compact, drainage becomes poor with the result that the roots start rotting because there is no longer any oxygen around the root area. So it is important to repot regularly until the plants are large enough to be planted in the garden.

PESTS

Because of the environment in which Clivias grow, slugs and snails are a problem particularly when the flower buds start appearing. Bait needs to be scattered around the plants to eliminate the slugs and snails. Other pests are mealy bugs, amaryllis caterpillar, scale and snout beetle which all need to be eliminated by spraying with a suitable insecticide (eg chlorpirifos or carbaryl. Synthetic pyrethroid insecticide, Baythroid, is a very effective, low toxic control. For best results, apply to all the leaf surfaces and make sure that the spray penetrates well down into the base of the plant).

DISEASES

Damping-off of young seedlings is probably the worst disease to contend with. As mentioned earlier this problem can be eliminated by using a pathogen-free germinating mix. Some plants seem to show a predisposition to fungal attack of the foliage. This problem is best overcome by a strict selection in the breeding programme. No plant is worth constant pampering and treatment — no matter how special it is!

Another problem, which may be encountered, is the appearance of rust pustules on the underside of the leaves. This will occur when particularly humid conditions prevail. Improved ventilation will remedy the situation. Treatment of affected plants with a systemic fungicide (e.g. funginex) will prevent spread of the disease, but affected leaves will remain unattractive. Occasionally in late summer plants will simply topple over and, on closer examination, will have rotted off at ground level. Only a small percentage of plants will be affected in this way, and, upon dusting with a suitable fungicide and callusing for a period can be successfully re-potted with minimal setback to the plant.

If you are interested in breeding Clivias I suggest you visit the website of the Clivia Society (http://www.cliviasociety.org/). You can also use any of the following to make contact —

Telephone: +27 12 804 8892
  Fax: +27 12 804 8892
  Mail: PO Box 74868, Lynnwood Ridge, 0040, South Africa


For photos and cultivation information on hundreds of Southern African indigenous plants, you can also visit www.PlantZAfrica.com .