Clivia nobilis


Family name
Common names : Bush lily

Clivia nobilis

Clivia nobilis was the first species of Clivia to be described in 1828. It was a popular plant in England until the more spectacular Clivia miniata appeared on the scene 30 years later.

Clivia nobilis is a bulbous plant which develops a rhizome and forms a tight clump as new suckers are produced and the plant becomes larger.

In light shade the leaves are almost horizontal and are relatively short, approximately 300mm in length while in dense shade the leaves are fairly upright and grow to 800mm in length. The width of the leaves can vary between 25-50mm. The leaves are a dull dark green with some forms displaying a pale green stripe down the centre of the leaf similar to the stripe which occurs on the leaves of some C. mirabilis plants. The margins of the leaves on many plants are serrated and the leaf tips are rounded and often notched.

BerriesThis evergreen, long lived plant produces an inflorescence containing between 40 - 60 pendulous flowers ranging from orange-green to red in colour. It flowers between late autumn and spring. Flowers are followed by clusters of bright red berries the size of a marbles which take a year to ripen. The seed is round and about 6mm in diameter.

The rate of growth of C nobilis is considerably slower than all of the other Clivia species. From seed C nobilis takes at least 6 years or more to flower. Under favourable conditions this species is a long lived plant and will outlive many generations.

C.nobilisClivia nobilis occurs as isolated populations on the east coast from Alexandria Forest near Port Elizabeth northwards to Hole in the Wall (in former Transkei ). Occasional populations occur inland with the most westerly population occuring in the Zuurberge up to an altitude of 600m. Coastal populations occur on dune sand, while forest and inland populations are found on river banks, on shale and rocky outcrops. Both on the coast and in inland populations, C. nobilis has been found growing both in low bush cover and with a high forest canopy. These differing light intensities affect the leaf length.

Rainfall in the area ranges from 1000mm to 1400mm which occurs in summer. Temperatures range from as low as 3° C to 30° C however the evergreen forests always have a cooling effect.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Clivia nobilis was named by Lindley in honour of the Duchess of Northumberland, Lady Clive, who was the grand daughter of Clive of India. The plant was collected by William Burchell, a school teacher who arrived in Cape Town in 1810. He was fascinated by natural history and spent 4 years travelling in a covered wagon collecting herbarium specimens of plants. He collected a plant near Grahamstown which later turned out to be a new genus, Clivia.

There are in total 6 species of Clivia all of which produce pendulous flowers with the exception of C. miniata which is the most striking of them all with large open flowers which vary in size shape and colour. Other species are C. miniata, Clivia caulescens, Clivia gardenii, the recently discovered Clivia mirabilis and Clivia robusta.

Not a great deal is known about the pollination of C nobilis. It is possible that they are self pollinating or wind pollinated. However, the flowers produce copious amounts of nectar so bees and sunbirds could also be pollinators of this fascinating plant. Birds are known to distribute the seed. Clivia nobilis is a plant which requires very little water to survive.

Uses and cultural aspects
Unfortunately all Clivia species are harvested in their natural habitats for medicinal and magical uses, a practice which is destroying many populations of Clivia.

Clivia nobilis is not very well known horticulturally, possibly as it is so slow growing and not as spectacular as C miniata.

Growing Clivia nobilis

Light shade is an ideal situation for this species with good drainage in a frost free area.

Ideal companion plants are Asparagus densiflorus, Crassula muticava, Clivia miniata and Veltheimia bracteata.

Clivia nobilis is not deep rooted, so plenty of compost applied as a mulch is very beneficial if applied once a year. In addition feed once a year with an organic fertilizer.

Pests which occur in moist shady areas are slugs and snails and they do much damage to the young tender growths. Care must be taken to eliminate these pests. Another pest which can do much damage is the snout beetle. It is nocturnal and damages the leaves. A contact insecticide will eliminate this pest.

Propagate C nobilis by sowing the seed once all the soft tissue has been removed from the berry. Sow the seed while fresh in a mixture of equal parts milled pine bark and sand. Cover lightly with milled pine bark. Once the seedlings are large enough to handle they need to be planted out into 15cm pots. Three in each pot. Every 9 months they need to be repotted in fresh growing medium as the old medium breaks down and the drainage is impaired.

These plants can also be propagated by division using a sharp knife to separate each growing stem. Plant in the same medium as above. The divisions should flower within 2 years whilst your seedlings will take 6 or more years to flower.


  • Koopowitz, H. 2002. Clivias.Timber Press, Portland Cambridge

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