Agapanthus coddii Leighton

Family: Agapanthaceae (Agapanthus Family)
Common Names:
Codd's Agapanthus, Blue Lily, Bloulelie

Agapanthus coddii

Summer time is agapanthus season at Kirstenbosch, when the Garden is festooned with masses of these beautiful plants that come in many shapes and sizes and in all shades of blue, and white. It is a tough choice to pick just one, as they are all deserving of a place in any garden.

Leaves of Agapanthus coddiiAgapanthus coddii is one of the lesser known agapanthus. It is deciduous, losing all its leaves in autumn, lying dormant during the winter months and producing a new set of leaves in the spring. This species comes from the Waterberg in the Northern Province (former western Transvaal). It is robust and free-flowering, with attractive upright foliage reaching a height of 0.8-1m and a dense umbel of bright blue flowers on a 1-1.5 m high stalk. The rootstock is rhizomatous with perennial fleshy roots. The leaves are broad, strap-shaped, 3-5 cm wide and 15-45 cm long, with blunt tips and are held in a decorative fan with a distinct stem. In December the flower stalks tipped by the buds appear out of the foliage, like an arsenal of spears pointing skywards. By early January the flowers start to open. The buds are quite a dark blue, opening to a paler blue, and each perianth segment has a distinct dark blue stripe down the middle. The perianth segments open quite widely, exposing purple tipped stamens. The fruit is a capsule containing many flat, black, winged seeds.

The genus Agapanthus was established by L'Heritier in 1788. It used to be included in the Liliaceae (lily family), was then moved to the Amaryllidaceae (amaryllus & daffodil family), moved again into the Alliaceae (onion family) then back to Amaryllidaceae and now resides in its own family, the Agapanthaceae. It seems to all be about whether its umbellate inflorescense is considered to be of greater taxonomic importance than its superior ovary. The Agapanthaceae is a monotypic family (consists of only one genus) that is endemic to southern Africa, i.e. Agapanthus occurs naturally nowhere else on Earth. It consists of six variable species that are widespread in all the provinces of South Africa except for the Northern Cape, and in Lesotho and Swaziland but not in Namibia or Botswana. They occur only in areas where the rainfall is more than 500 mm (20 inches) per annum, from sea level to 2000 m (7000 ft), with a distribution range that extends from the Cape Peninsula in the south-west, along the southern and eastern coast of southern Africa then inland and northwards into the mountainous regions south of the Limpopo River. There are many cultivated forms of Agapanthsu praecox and Agapanthus inapertus.

The name Agapanthus is derived from the Greek agapé love and anthos, flower. There is no clear reason for this derivation although it could be interpreted as 'lovely flower' or 'flower of love'. Agapeo means 'to be contented with' which is a possible derivation, i.e. 'flower with which I am well pleased'. Agapanthus coddii is named after Dr. L.E.W. Codd, botanist and director of the Botanical Resarch Institute in Pretoria from 1963-1973. Agapanthus has attracted a few common names over the years. In its first publication in Europe in 1679 it was called the African hyacinth. Linnaeus called it the African lily, and nowadays in Europe and America it is still known as the African lily, but also rather inappropriately as lily of the Nile. In South Africa they are commonly called agapanthus or blue lily / bloulelie.

Bed of Agapanthus coddii

Growing Agapanthus coddii

Agapanthus coddii is easy to grow. It requires rich, well-drained soil with ample compost (decayed organic matter) and plenty of water in summer. It does best in full sun, is not at its best in semi-shade but will still do well in light shade for about half the day. It does not mind irrigation during its winter dormant period, and also does very well in the winter rainfall Western Cape. In order to get Agapanthus coddii to flower well, it is crucial that it is fed generously every spring and watered well during spring and summer. As with most plants they benefit most from regular (e.g. weekly) deep drenching as opposed to frequent superficial waterings. Plant Agapanthus coddii so that the rootstock is just underground. Take note that unlike the evergreen agapanthus that need to be lifted and divided every four years or so to ensure flowering, Agapanthus coddii, and all the other deciduous species, require a period of settling in and may not flower very well in their first year after being re-planted. It is best to leave them undisturbed for up to six years. Agapanthus coddii is frost hardy, and should be able to survive in permanent outdoor cultivation in areas with a winter minimum of -7°C / 20°F (zone 9) although in regions that dip to -5°C / 23°F and below for long periods the plants should be mulched thickly with a protective layer of leaves / straw / hessian.

Agapanthus coddii is ideal for mass displays or as a backdrop to the herbaceous border. It is a good companion for winter growing plants like Chasmanthe floribunda. It is also suitable for pot cultivation although it is a bit big and it will require regular supplementary feeding and a large tub. Agapanthus coddii is an excellent cutflower, either whole heads, or individual flowers in small arrangements or wired and used in bouquets and posies.

Propagation is by seed or division. Because Agapanthus hybridise freely with each other, and are all in flower at the same time, you can be sure that there will be hybrids from seed harvested in the Garden. To get pure seed of Agapanthus coddii it would have to be habitat collected or pollinated under strictly controlled conditions.

Seed can be sown fresh, in late summer - autumn, but in cold climates it can be kept refrigerated (not frozen) and sown in spring. It must be kept in the refrigerator or it will perish. Seed should be sown in deep (10 cm) trays, in a mixture of equal parts river sand and fine compost, and kept semi-shaded and moist. Seed germinates readily within six to eight weeks. The seed should be sown thinly as the seedlings will stay in the tray for their first year. Seedlings should be potted up into individual containers during their second year and can be planted into the garden or permanent pots in their third year. Flowering can be expected from their third or fourth year.

Clumps can be lifted and divided in spring just before active growth begins, and remember it is best not to lift them too frequently, as flowering will be adversely affected.

Agapanthus coddii is generally pest- and disease-free. Foliage may be attacked by red spider mites, thrips, and mealy bug but need only be sprayed if infestation is severe. Agapanthus are famous for harbouring snails, although the snails do not seem to cause any damage to the plants themselves. The best way to combat them is to remove them by hand or to keep ducks. Botrytis, visible as brownish lesions, may attack the flowers preventing them from opening. There is no cure, it can only be prevented by spraying before and after the buds break open. The foliage may be attacked by the fungus Macrophoma agapanthii causing die-back of the leaves, and in severe cases can be combatted with a fungicide like mancozeb or captab as a full cover spray.

References:

  • Duncan, Graham, 1998, Grow Agapanthus, A guide to the species, cultivation and propagation of the genus Agapanthus, National Botanical Institute, Trident Press, Cape Town.
  • Leighton, Francis M., 1965, The Genus Agapanthus L'Heritier, Journal of South African Botany, Supplementary Volume No. IV, National Botanic Gardens, Cape Town.
  • Du Plessis, N., & Duncan, G., 1989, Bulbous Plants of Southern Africa, A guide to their Cultivation and Propagation, Tafelberg, Cape Town
  • Leistner, O.A. (ed.), 2000, Seed plants of southern Africa: families and genera, Strelitzia 10., National Botanical Institute, Pretoria
  • Jackson, W.P.U., 1990, Origins and Meanings of Names of South African Plant Genera, U.C.T. Printing Dept., Cape Town.

Alice Notten
Kirstenbosch NBG
January 2002



To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.
This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com.