This is an attractive plant, with showy greenish yellow to yellow
flowers and long, narrow leaves. It is suited to temperate gardens
where it forms a strong contrast to small- or round-leaved plants.
common marsh poker is a robust perennial which grows up to 1.5 m
in height and is often found growing in groups. The leaves are soft
and basal, yellow to dull green, and are strongly keeled with finely
toothed or smooth margins. Poker-shaped flowerheads are borne on
tall stalks from midsummer to autumn. Initially pinkish red to green
flower buds appear, which are then followed by the greenish yellow
to yellow flowers. They are neatly arranged in a dense inflorescence.
From a distance the floral arrangement may be mistaken for that
of a grassland aloe. Flowers are followed by greenish capsules,
which contain green seeds that turn black as they mature.
This is a widespread species in southern Africa occurring in Eastern
Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga and Zimbabwe,
with an outlier recorded at Worcester in Western Cape. It occurs
at higher altitudes, from about 300 m upwards. It is found naturally
in marshy areas, streambanks and mountainous grassland.
Ecology and Uses
K. linearifolia attracts nectar-feeding birds such as sunbirds
and sugarbirds. Certain insects also visit it. Although no medicinal
purposes for this species have been recorded, the flowers of some
species are reportedly used as a minor food and apparently taste
like honey. K. parviflora, was used as a traditional snake
repellent; K. rooperii and K. laxiflora are used traditionally
as a medicine.
The genus Kniphofia was named in honour of Johannes Hieronymus
Kniphof, (1704-1763), who was a professor of medicine at Erfurt
University in Germany. There are approximately 70 species in Africa
and of these, 47 occur in the eastern parts of South Africa. This
includes Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng
and Zimbabwe. The specific name linearifolia is a Latin word
meaning narrow leaves.
Kniphofia belongs to the Asphodelaceae family, which was
formerly part of the Liliaceae family. The family is cosmopolitan.
It is found in Europe, Asia and Africa, but mostly it is centred
in South Africa, with the genera Aloe (according to some
taxonomists) and Kniphofia being the main representatives.
There are 17 genera in total, with 750 species; and of these, 10
genera are found in South Africa alone. The family is made up of
mostly herbs, with some woody plants, such as the tree aloes. The
family is characterized by bearing capsules.
There are three species within the genus that may be confused with
the species linearifolia, namely. K. uvaria, K. bruceae,
and K. tysonii. K. uvaria is characterized by hard leaves
that are fibrous and narrow. The inflorescence is also more rounded.
K. bruceae has protruding stamens with long bracts that have
pointed tips. K. tysonii grows up to 2 m, and is only found
in grassland. Its leaves are erect, then folding at the middle.
The flower buds are orange to dull dark red. The flowers are smaller
and yellow to greenish with protruding stamens.
Growing K. linearifolia
K. linearifolia grows well in rich soil in an open, sunny
position or partial shade. It may be grown from seeds, which may
take up to six weeks to germinate. Seeds may be sown in trays at
anytime from spring to autumn. The seedlings may then be planted
into the garden when they are 5-6 months old or 150 mm high and
should be kept moist at all times.
The marsh poker can also be propagated from dividing large clumps,
which spread by means of rhizomes. They may be lifted from the soil
and divided with a sharp spade. Plant them in a well-composted growing
mix (in a pot or straight into the ground) and water well. They
should be kept moist until they are well established. The younger
rhizomes respond well to division, whereas the older ones might
struggle a bit, but can establish themselves.
Kniphofia linearifolia makes 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. This plant 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. Flowers of this species also make excellent cut
- CODD, L. E. 1968. The South African species of Kniphofia. Bothalia 9: 363-513.
- JOFFE, P. 1993. The gardener's guide to South African plants.
Tafelberg, Cape Town.
- POOLEY, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal
and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Pietermaritzburg.
- TRENDLER, R. & HES, L. 1994. Attracting birds to your
garden in southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- VAN DER SPUY, U. 1971. Wild flowers of South Africa for the
garden. Hugh Keartland Publishers, Johannesburg.
Mhlonishwa D. Dlamini
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
With additions by Yvonne Reynolds