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Grow Blood Lily, Fireball Lily, Paintbrush Lily . . .

Dazzling, though somewhat bizarre-looking plants, there is, nevertheless, something special about them.

Dazzling, though somewhat bizarre-looking plants, there is, nevertheless, something special about them.

Among the most beautiful cultivated ornamental bulbs, the southern African natives, Haemanthus and Scadoxus may be perceived as brilliant, brazen blood lilies or demure, soft, powderpuffs — in either guise they can surprise and delight you. They have a wide distribution from lowland to mountain forest, forest margins or open grassland and are very common in the shade of trees along river banks.

Scadoxus used to be included in the genus Haemanthus, but is now regarded as distinct and separate. Some common names for these bulbs include Blood lily, African Blood lily, Torch lily, Paintbrush lily, Football lily, Powderpuff lily, Poison root, Snake lily and Fireball lily.

The genus Haemanthus (African blood lily) consists of bulbous plants with showy flowers. Some species are deciduous and must be rested almost dry for two or three months; others have brief rest periods but retain their leaves. The bulbs of some species produce offsets. Flowers of all species are short‑lived; flower size and coloring differ considerably.

This is a very useful plant for shady gardens, a handsome pot subject for a large container on a shady deck or patio, and as an indoor plant. It looks particularly effective in large groups under trees, where they do not seem to mind competition from tree roots, provided the soil is good.

In colder climates they can be grow outdoors in pots, or planted in the ground after the danger of frost has passed in your area. Pots should be moved indoors, or bulbs must be dug up before winter, and stored indoors. They are hardy only to USDA Zone 8.


H. albiflos (Paintbrush lily) is not deciduous. It has­ fleshy, rounded‑oblong leaves 22cm ‑ 30cm long and 10cm wide, which are dull‑surfaced, dark green, and bordered with fine, white hairs. Each bulb usually has four stalkless leaves arranged in arching pairs. Every spring a new pair is produced from the “crease” between the upper pair of leaves. Soon afterward the lower pair dry up, when they can be pulled away. A single, cup‑shaped head composed of many flowers appears in late summer or early fall on a 22cm long, 25mm thick, green stalk. The 30cm wide flower head consists of 8 to 10 petal-like, 25mm long bracts enclosing dozens of 25mm long stamens. The bracts are white marked with fine green lines, and the stamens are white tipped with yellow. When the plant is several years old, it produces offsets.

H. coccineus (African blood lily) has stalkless, fleshy, strap‑shaped, dark green leaves up to 60cm long and 15cm wide. There are usually two per bulb, and they develop fully after the bulb has flowered. They remain through winter and spring, dying down in early summer. After a short rest period a green, red‑spotted flower stalk begins to rise from the leafless bulb. By early autumn the 25cm – 30cm long, 25mm thick stalk carries a 6cm wide, cup‑shaped flower head composed of six or eight bracts 4cm – 5cm long surrounding 4cm‑long stamens.

Bracts are blood red, stamens orange-red tipped with yellow. Offsets are not produced.

H. deformis is normally found deep in forests up against cliff faces. The leaves lie flat upon the ground and can reach 30cm x 15cm in size. The huge white flower head is held upon a short stem. Like its cousin albiflos, deformis needs cool, shady spots for maximum growth.

H. humulis can take medium frost and thrives in partially shaded stony areas. It produces light to dark pink flowers on a 30cm stem. The leaves are semi erect and can reach 30cm in length by 15cm in width. Sandy soil with compost added is best and fair watering during spring and summer is advised.


Scadoxus was long regarded as a subgenus of Haemanthus, but because there are differences in the number of chromosomes, the foliage, and the rootstock, it is now treated as a distinct genus. The rootstock is predominately an elongated rhizome, sometime with a bulbous part above. Leaves are dry or green at flowering. Many have a sheath that forms a false stem. Most species favor semi-shade and can be grown from seed without a lot of trouble.

The beautiful flowers are followed by attractive red berries which are eaten by birds (and, in their native environment, monkeys). This is an excellent plant for the ‘bird-garden’ and the nectar-rich flowers attract weavers, sunbirds and insects including butterflies.


Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katharinae (Fireball lily) produces stems up to 60cm tall, which carry 22cm – 30cm long, 10cm – to 15cm wide, lance‑shaped leaves with 25mm long stalks. The leaves, usually kept throughout the year, are undulate and medium green with pale green veins. In summer a green flower stalk (often spotted with red at the base) rises from the bulb. The stalk carries a globe‑shaped, salmon red flower head 15cm to 22cm across, which consists of tubular flowers, each up to 5cm long. 25mm long stamens jut out from the tips of the tubes. Offsets are not produced.

S. puniceus, is the famed Snake Lily of Africa. Legend has it that snakes are attracted to the spotted tunic of the leaf bases, but it is just that, an unfounded legend based upon the colouring of the bulb. However the strongly scented flowers are a no no for sufferers of Hay Fever. Still interested? Then this wonderful bright orange ball of flowers is just for your pot or semi protected garden. It can take light frost and flowers in early spring. The flowers stand up to 50cm in height and are produced before the leaves emerge from their winter sleep.

S. multiflorus has three or four pointed‑oval leaves about 25cm long and 12cm wide. These are arranged on 25mm long stalks around a 15cm – 22cm long stem. The stem and leaves appear in early spring and are shed in autumn. The flower head on its 30cm long stalk is generally bright red, appears in late spring, and is less than 15cm in diameter. Offsets are not produced by these bulbs.

S. membranaceus is one of the smaller Scadoxus species producing a large, cup shaped, olive green calyx holding up to 20 fat bright red berries for up to 3 months, making this an exceptionally attractive pot plant or garden feature. Grows best in deep shade with minimal watering, making it an ideal pot plant! A top dressing of slow release organic fertiliser in early summer produces lush growth and flowers.


Haemanthus are best grown in a rockery or as container plants, in full sun or partial shade. They can be propagated from seed, bulb cuttings and offsets. H. albiflos, an evergreen plant suited to shady conditions, is probably the most widely cultivated species. This species and the closely related H. pauculifolius , multiply most readily from offsets and eventually form dense plantings. Whereas H. albiflos and H. humilis may flower in their third or fourth year, some of the Cape species are extremely slow growing. For instance, H. nortieri can take almost 17 years to mature. Haemanthus are not suited to extremely cold places and will perish in severe frost.

Scadoxus is a very useful plant for shady gardens, a handsome pot subject for a large container on a shady stoep, and it is recommended as an indoor plant. It looks particularly effective in large groups under trees, where they do not seem to mind competition from tree roots, provided the soil is good.

Seed should be sown as soon as it is ripe. This does not necessarily mean that the berries must be removed the minute they turn red. If they are not under threat from birds, or curious children, they can be left on without harming the seed until they start to look a bit wrinkled, which should be around early spring. Clean the pulp off, with care as the seed underneath is soft and fleshy. The best is to rub or peel it off. Use a well-drained, light potting mix, press the seed gently into the soil, do not cover it but leave the tops just visible or level with the soil surface. Keep damp but not waterlogged. Flowers can be expected from the third season onwards.

Offsets should be removed after flowering i.e. in autumn, and replanted immediately.

Light Provide bright light, with some direct sunlight every day. Light is not important during dormancy.

Temperature Room temperature is suitable. Avoid temperatures below 12oC, even in dormancy.

Watering Water moderately, allowing the top 12mm of the potting mixture to dry out between waterings. When the leaves of a deciduous Haemanthus begin to yellow, gradually reduce the amount, and give dormant bulbs only enough to keep the mixture from becoming completely dry. During the winter water species that retain their leaves only enough to keep the mixture from drying out.

Feeding Apply a high‑potash liquid fertilizer to actively growing plants every two weeks.

Potting and repotting Use a soil-based potting mixture. When planting bulbs, choose pots that allow 25mm of space between the bulb and the rim. Move a Haemanthus into a larger pot only when its roots appear on the surface of the mixture or the bulb edges approach the edge of the pot. Otherwise, top-dress it in early spring.

Propagation When H. albiflos has produced a group of bulbs, the group may be divided in early spring just as the parent plant starts into new growth. Plant bulbs separately, half burying them in the potting mixture. Water each newly potted bulb sparingly for four or five weeks, and do not feed it until the plant is well established. Otherwise, treat the bulb as a mature plant. Haemanthuses that do not produce offsets can be propagated only from seed.

Pests Watch out for the Amaryllis lily borer which can severely damage the whole plant. Slugs and snails can damage the foliage.


The bulbs contain alkaloids and are poisonous if eaten, causing only low toxicity. Symptoms include salivation, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.