Red-hot pokers are grown in temperate gardens around the world.
Ranging in colour from reds, oranges through yellow to lime green
and cream, numerous cultivars and hybrids have been developed from
species originating in South Africa.
genus Kniphofia was named in honour of Johannes Hieronymus
Kniphof, 1704-1763, who was a professor of medicine at Erfurt University
in Germany. Kniphofia belongs to the family Asphodelaceae
which comprises 17 genera (10 of which occur in South Africa) and
about 750 species. About 70 species of Kniphofia occur in
Africa and 47 of these are found in the eastern areas of South Africa.The
genus Kniphofia is very closely related to the genus Aloe.
As a result, the first Kniphofia to be described, namely
K. uvaria, was mistakenly thought to be an Aloe and
was thus initially named Aloe uvaria.
Most species of Kniphofia are evergreen while a few are
deciduous and sprout again in the early summer. They bear dense,
erect spikes (elongated inflorescence with stalkless flowers) above
the level of the leaves in either winter or summer depending on
the species.The small, tubular flowers are produced in shades of
red, orange, yellow and cream.
form large clumps of arching leaves which are long, narrow and tapering.
The leaves are non-succulent, unlike the leaves of aloes. This distinguishes
them from a plant such as Aloe cooperi. The leaf surface
is glabrous (smooth) in all but one species, namely, K. hirsuta.
The underground part of the plant consists of a thick rhizome
and fibrous, fleshy roots. In some Kniphofia species the
rhizome divides forming groups of stems, while in others the stems
are more or less solitary. The vast majority of Kniphofia
species do not produce an aerial stem, but exceptions do occur as
is the case with old specimens of K. caulescens and K.
northiae which can reach a height of 30 cm.
are frequented by nectar-feeding birds such as sunbirds and sugarbirds.
They are also visited by certain insects. The flowers of some species
of Kniphofia are reportedly used as a minor food and apparently
taste like honey. K. parviflora is reported to have been
made into a traditional snake repellent. K. rooperii and
K. laxiflora are used traditionally as a medicine. An infusion
of the roots is used to relieve or treat the symptoms of certain
Kniphofia spp. occur naturally in all the nine provinces
of South Africa. Kwazulu-Natal possesses the highest number of Kniphofia
species, compared to the other provinces with ± 40 to 50
species. Kniphofia also occurs in Lesotho, Swaziland and
northward towards Sudan. The species diversity, however, decreases
as one moves north. Three species occur naturally outside continental
Africa. Two of these species occur in Madagascar and one in Yemen.
Most Kniphofia species are found growing near rivers or in
places where conditions will become damp or marshy for part of the
year. A small number of species prefer dry conditions with good
Growing Kniphofia species
pokers make a brilliant display in a garden and the flowers last
for a long time. The showy, bright-coloured flowers are ideal for
adding a splash of colour to an area or making a bold statement.
These plants can be used at the back of a mixed flower border, in
groups in the front of a shrub border, or lining a long driveway.
Kniphofia tolerate wind well and are often seen growing close
to the coast. They also make excellent cut flowers. The winter-flowering
varieties are particularly useful in providing displays of colour
during the dry winter months in the summer rainfall regions.
Kniphofia grow well in rich soil located in an open sunny
position or partial shade. Most species require plenty of water
during the growing season if they are to thrive and flower well.
They should also be fertilised monthly during their active growing
period. Kniphofia species are generally hardy to semi-hardy.
Most species tolerate frost but the winter-flowering species should
be protected. Some summer-flowering species die down in winter and
grow again in the early summer. In cultivation Kniphofia
resent disturbance. They will take a year to settle down after being
divided and will not flower well. They should therefore be left
undisturbed for many years until their flowers show signs of deterioration
through overcrowding. Some commonly cultivated Kniphofia
species include K. praecox, K. linearifolia, K. uvaria, K. multiflora,
K. caulescens and a variety of attractive cultivars.
These plants can be propagated by seed or by division. Division
will produce the quickest results since seed takes a long time to
produce flowering plants. Large clumps can be lifted and divided,
using a spade and then replanted.
Acknowledgements: Mr Syd Ramdhani is thanked for providing
information on the distribution of the genus.
- ELIOVSON, S. 1984. Wild flowers of southern Africa, edn 7. Pretoria.
- JOFFE, P. 1993. The gardener's guide to South African plants.
Tafelberg Publishers, Cape Town.
- POOLEY, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of Kwazulu-Natal
and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- TRENDLER, R. & HES, L. 1994. Attracting birds to your garden
in southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town
VAN DER SPUY, U. 1971. Wild flowers of South Africa for the garden.
Hugh Keartland Publishers, Johannesburg.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden