Clivia caulescens




Clivia caulescens is a strong grower with stems to 2m, flowers in midsummer, and will attract birds to the garden.

Description: Clivia caulescens is an evergreen, bulbous plant, producing rhizomes which tend to sucker and in time, grows into a large plant. The stem develops to a height of 0.5-2.0 m and 30-40 mm in diameter. In time, the lower portion of the stem becomes leafless, leaving only the leaf scars. The leaves are dark green, 400-900 x 50 mm. The inflorescence consists of 15-20 orange to cream-coloured, pendulous flowers. The petals curve outwards at their tips which are green. This species flowers in summer (October to November). The light yellow to almost purple berries vary from round to oblong and ripen after nine months.

Distribution: This species is fairly common in the Mpumalanga and northern provinces, occurring at Sabie, Mount Sheba, God`s Window and as far north as the Soutpansberg, at altitudes ranging from 1 500 m to over 1 770 m at Elandshoogte where the mountains can be covered in snow in the winter months. The area experiences summer rainfall.

Clivia caulescens occurs in forests in leaf mould, in leaf mould on rocks, even on old decaying tree stumps or on the branches of trees. Populations at altitudes of 1 500 m are subject to mist, snow and extreme cold conditions. Like all clivia species, C. caulescens is a long-lived plant and can survive indefinitely under ideal conditions which consist of light shade, a well-drained growing medium, cool conditions ranging from 3ºC-28ºC, and adequate moisture.

Although a mature plant of this species will survive frost, all the leaves will be burnt and the plant will take a couple of years to recover.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Clivia caulescens was observed for a number of years and collected on several occasions before it was described in 1943. Initially there was doubt whether there was sufficient justification, as C. nobilis and C. gardenii are similar, with the exception that they do not develop the tall stem which C. caulescens does. The specific name caulescens refers to the fact that this species has a stem.

Natural hybrids of C. miniata and C. caulescens do occur and produce vigorous plants of about a metre in height with broad, dark green leaves and delightful pendulous, pale salmon-coloured flowers in midsummer and sometimes in midwinter.

The populations of Clivia caulescens occur in isolated pockets today as the forests of Africa have shrunk through time. Little is known about the pollinating agents of Clivia, although it is thought that the pendulous species, with their large number of flowers, are self-pollinating as well as bird-pollinated, as they produce nectar which would attract birds and insects. The seed has been seen to be transported by samango and vervet monkeys as well as by the Knysna Loerie and other birds. Rodents are also responsible for distributing the seed. Mice as well as rats consume the soft tissue which covers the seed and they then leave the seed to germinate once they have finished their meal.

Uses and cultural aspects
Fortunately, Clivia caulescens does not appear to be sought after for medicinal and spiritual purposes by the indigenous people. Many of the populations occur in inaccessible places such as vertical cliffs, therefore the species is not regarded as threatened.

Growing Clivia caulescens

In cultivation, Clivia caulescens requires a frost-free area with light shade, a well-drained growing medium, cool conditions and not a great deal of water. As the plant grows fairly tall, the following shade-loving plants compliment this species: Streptocarpus species, Asparagus densiflorus, Veltheimia bracteata, Clivia miniata and C. gardenii. The two additional Clivia species flower at different times to C. caulescens and give added interest and colour in the garden. It also makes a good potplant.

An annual application of a 100 mm layer of compost plus an organic fertilizer will keep the clivia in good condition.

Propagation from seed requires harvesting the seed nine months after flowering. Remove the soft covering tissue and sow the fresh seed in a growing medium of matured pine bark at a depth which just covers the seed. A 15 cm pot is ideal for sowing the seed which must be kept moist and in the shade. Once the leaves of the seedlings are 50 mm long they can be pricked out into a 15 cm pot (3 seedlings per pot ) and left to grow on for a year. Regular feeding with a balanced fertilizer is essential for good growth.

After a year, repot the seedlings into individual 20 cm pots where they should flower 3 to 4 years from sowing. The other method of propagation is by dividing the large plant. Firstly remove all of the growing medium from the roots. The numerous suckers which have developed can now be carefully separated from the main plant. They can either be planted in a pot or directly into the garden. They should flower the following year. Division can be done at any time of the year except when the plant is in flower.

References and further reading

  • Abel, C. & Abel, J. 2003. Some observations on Clivia caulescens. Clivia 5: 66. Clivia Society,
  • Dyer, R.A. 1943. Clivia caulescens. The Flowering Plants of South Africa 23: t. 891.
  • Koopowitz, H. 2002. Clivias. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon .

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