This delicate white wetland poker is so rare that it is now known
from only one locality in Kwazulu-Natal, and does not even have
a common name. Unless drastic conservation measures are taken immediately
this species could become extinct.
Plants of this species are relatively small, growing to about half
a metre. Tufts of green strap-shaped leaves, which are 'V' shaped
in cross section arise at the base of the plant. The thick roots
are yellow. The flower stalks are about 50 cm in height and bear
pinkish/greenish buds which open from the base of the inflorescence
into white tubular flowers with conspicuous yellow anthers.
Flowering takes place between September to December, but occasional
flowers appear throughout the year.
This plant is critically endangered and is regarded as 'high priority'
for conservation by Kwazulu-Natal conservation agencies.
Known only from vleis or wetlands in low-lying coastal grassland
in the Richards Bay area of KwaZulu-Natal. This poker prefers damp
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Kniphofia is named after the 16th century German
professor, J.H.Kniphof, and the specific name "leucocephala"
means "white head", referring to the white inflorescence.
Kniphofia leucocephala was first collected in 1970, and described
in1992 by Prof. Baijnaith of Durban-Westville University.
The red hot pokers, or kniphofias, are a large genus of about 70
mostly African species, many of which are well known garden plants,
both here and overseas.
Afforestation has destroyed or altered many of the possible suitable
habitats of this species, with less than 2% of the coastal grasslands
now remaining between Richards Bay and St.Lucia. As a result grazing
areas have now virtually been restricted to the wetlands, resulting
in overgrazing and trampling of these habitats. The plants are adapted
to the frequent grassland fires because of their moist habitat and
thick fleshy roots.
The faint scent and white colour of the flowers indicate that evening
flying insects such as moths could be the pollinators. However,
flies and bees have been seen collecting pollen.
Uses and cultural aspects
This little known plant does not appear to have any traditional
Growing Kniphofia leucocephala
this species is so rare, a few plants and some seed collected by
KZN Conservation to establish ex-situ (out of the wild) populations
have allowed some observations on propagation.
The small dark flat seeds germinate readily in fine pine bark with
a light covering of sieved medium. The seeds must be kept moist
and warm (about 25 C), and once the seedlings are about 4 cm tall
they should be transplanted into bags. Adult plants can successfully
200 plants are now available for relocation into the wild when suitable
localities have been found.
The most important pests of this poker are slugs and snails, which
can be controlled easily by snailbait, and Australian mealybug which
needs to be controlled with mineral-oil based pesticide.
While at present no plants are available for garden cultivation,
a very close relative Kniphofia pauciflora, which is now
believed to be extinct in the wild, has been successfully propagated
and is now widely available to gardeners.
If this happens in the case of K. leucocephala, plants would
make a delicate addition to a small wetland mixed with low-growing
sedges such as Cyperus prolifer and wild arums (Zantedescia
- BAIJNAITH H. 1992. Kniphofia leucocephala (Asphodelaceae) a
new white-flowered red-hot poker from South Africa. South African
Journal of Botany 58,6:482-285
- MENNE W.1992. Future of new Kniphofia in jeopardy. PlantLife
- SCOTT-SHAW CR. 1999. Rare and threatened plants of KwaZulu-Natal
and neighbouring regions. KZN Nature Conservation Service.
KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden