Hesperantha coccinea (Backh. & Harv.) Goldblatt & J.C.Manning

Family name: Iridaceae
Common names:
River Lily (E), Khahlana (South Sotho), Rooirivierlelie (A)

Hesperantha coccinea

The name Hesperantha means 'evening flower' and the genus comprises 65 species which are distributed through both the summer and winter rainfall areas of South Africa. The river lily Hesperantha coccinea is a species from the summer rainfall area and is widely distributed through the eastern provinces of the country. The species name coccinea means 'scarlet' and refers to the bright red flowers produced by this species. Until fairly recently this species was known by its old name Schizostylis coccinea.

It is a marvellous, water- loving, perennial bulbous plant. It occurs naturally in saturated soils on stream banks growing in full sun. Although the flowers are normally bright red, there are also pink and white forms.

The flowers are borne in profusion in summer during the warm and wet months between December and April. Hesperantha coccinea is a popular garden in the United Kingdom and Europe. It is also a good cut flower plant. The flowers are pollinated by a large butterfly (Aerpetes) and long proboscid flies.

Growing Hesperantha coccinea

H.coccinea growing  in the gardenThe river lily is fast growing and can be propagated easily from seed or by splitting the clumps. Seeds can be sown during the early months of spring from late August until early November. Seed can be sown directly in the flower bed or in seed trays on a suitable seedling medium and should be kept well watered. The best time to split and transplant plants is from January to April.

This attractive garden subject should be grown in full sun in compost-enriched soil and ideally should be planted at the edge of a pond or in some other area where the roots are constantly in water. It can also be planted in a pot, submerged in water up to soil level. This species is a frost hardy, low maintenance plant and will seed itself around the wetter areas of your garden. The river lily forms dense clumps and given a few years will create a stunning display in the garden when in flower.

Thompson Mutshinyalo
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
November 2000

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.