Family: Agapanthaceae
Common name:
Agapanthus, African Lily, Lily of the Nile

Bed of "Graskop"

This striking agapanthus with its compact head of drooping, dark violet blue flowers is always commented on when first seen. The buds as they emerge seem almost black and are held erect, slowly elongating and finally becoming pendulous as they open.

Flowers of "Graskop"This clone named ‘Graskop’, occurs in Mpumalanga near the town of Graskop and grows in grassland areas in the summer rainfall area. It is a deciduous species which has narrow light green leaves. Plants stand about 600 mm tall and the flower stems reach a height of 900 mm. They flower in January and February. The plants need abundant water during the growing season and should be planted in well-drained soil in full sunlight. They make good container plants and are best appreciated in the landscape as specimen plants or in small groups. They can also be mixed with other plants, but must not be overcrowded or they will not flower well. Although deciduous, they do tolerate rain during their dormant period. They can withstand sub zero temperatures for short periods but at Inverewe in Scotland several nights at minus 10 degrees Celsius killed large clumps. In the northern hemisphere plants in containers can be moved into a glasshouse during winter while plants outdoors should be covered with straw or similar material to help protect them.



Agapanthus is amongst South Africa’s best-known plants, having first been mentioned in literature in Europe as early as 1679. It was, however, not until 1965 that Francis M. Leighton published her monograph on the genus, recognising 10 species and several subspecies. Although her work has given us some understanding of Agapanthus, the enormous variability of species in the field requires a comprehensive study of all known localities to properly research the genus and to resolve many unanswered questions regarding this fascinating group of plants.

The first Agapanthus species to reach Europe were A. africanus and A. praecox, which are not very cold tolerant. The introduction of deciduous species, in particular A. campanulatus, led to the development of a much hardier range of hybrids.

Agapanthus can be divided into two groups, the evergreen species which are A. africanus, A. comptonii, A. praecox and A. walshii, and the deciduous species namely A. campanulatus, A. caulescens, A. coddii, A. dyeri, A. inapertus and A. nutans.

Agapanthus species grow from sea level to an altitude of 2000 metres and from the Cape Peninsula to just south of the Limpopo River. The plants all need full sun or lightly shaded positions for optimum growth and flowering. The soil should be well drained and humus rich, except for A. africanus and A. walshii, which grow in mineral poor soils in the winter rainfall area and need to be kept dry in summer. All other Agapanthus species require water in the growing period but can withstand dry conditions, particularly A. praecox and its hybrids. Agapanthus plants enjoy a good feed in summer with a slow release fertiliser. Always water well after applying fertiliser.

The only way to ensure that desirable plants are increased is by division. Deciduous species are best split in spring, just as the growing tips begin to show. The evergreen species should be split in autumn after flowering. When clumps are split, each section must have a strong growing shoot, which will guarantee success. Plants should then be left undisturbed for so long as they are flowering well.
Unless gathered in the wild seed is unlikely to come true. Plants raised from seed can, however, result in exciting new varieties. Seed needs a temperature of 15,5 ºC or higher to germinate. Seed should be sown as fresh as possible in trays or open beds in a frost-free environment. Sow in a well-drained mix and lightly cover the seed ensuring that it never dries out. Seed sown plants will flower within two to four years.

Agapanthus plants have few pests. Occasionally thrips, red spider, mealy bugs, gall midge flies, snout beetles or caterpillars may attack them. Only in the case of severe infestations should they be sprayed as they invariably recover by themselves. Snails do find refuge under the leaves but do not feed on the plants. Botrytis may cause bud malformation and Agapanthus fungus could cause leaves to die back. Once more, only spray when essential. Approach your local Nurseryman for the best advice on what to spray. Frequent division of plants can lead to virus being introduced. This usually manifests itself in the leaves by means of yellow streaking. Such plant should be removed and destroyed.

Finally agapanthus flowers make good cut flowers. Cut when the first few flowers are open and they will last for seven to ten days or longer.

Richard Jamieson
January 2001

To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.
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