Scadoxus used to be included in the genus Haemanthus,
but is now regarded as distinct. Scadoxus was named by Rafinesque,
who commented "umb. glor.", which could be taken to mean
glorious umbel, which is very apt. However, in Greek doxus
does mean glorious, but sca means obscure, which rather confuses
the issue. The specific name multiflorus means many flowered
in Latin, which is self explanatory, and katharinae is after
Katharine Saunders, the well-known botanical artist.. Its former
name, Haemanthus translates to blood flower, from haima,
blood, and anthos, a flower (Greek), referring to the colour
of the spathe and filaments in some species of Haemanthus.
multiflorus ssp katharinae is an evergreen rhizomatous
perennial, producing up to nine leaves per season whose tubular
leaf bases form a pseudostem, a false stem formed by the sheathing
leaf bases which overlap closely and are pressed flat against each
other. The pseudostem is sturdy and fleshy with a diameter of up
to 25 mm, and is usually purple spotted but can be plain and almost
The leaves are large and thin-textured with a distinct midrib and
an undulating margin. They encircle the pseudostem giving a single
plant an overall symmetric shape. The leaves of a well-grown plant
can stand up to 70 cm high with a spread of up to 110 cm.
spectacular flowerhead is a huge spherical umbel consisting of up
to 200 flowers, held clear of the foliage at the end of a solitary
stem. Each plant will produce only one flowerhead in a season. A
flowerhead can reach a diameter of 25 cm and a height of 110 cm,
nearly waist height. Each flower is pinkish-orange-red with protruding
stamens carrying bright yellow anthers. The flowerheads last for
1 or 2 weeks and make superb cut flowers. Flowering is in late summer
to early autumn (December-March). The seed develops in the inferior
ovary which is visible as a swelling of the flower stalk below the
flower, at the tip of the pedicel. These will swell to form a green
berry that will turn scarlet as it ripens during winter-spring (July
- September). These decorative berries can remain on the plant for
up to 2 months.
Scadoxus multiflorus has a wide distribution and varying
habitat and is found predominantly in tropical Africa but its range
extends from the Eastern Cape in South Africa, through KwaZulu-Natal,
all four northern provinces of South Africa, into Swaziland, Mozambique,
Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana and throughout all but the very driest
regions of tropical Africa. It occurs in lowland to mountain forest,
secondary forest, forest margins, savannah woodland, open grassland
and is very common in the shade of trees at river banks. Scadoxus
multiflorus ssp katharinae occurs in the Eastern Cape,
KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Growing Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katharinae
Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katharinae is an evergreen,
summer growing perennial that requires semi-shade and will flourish
even in heavy shade. It may be deciduous and go dormant in winter
in colder climates. It is frost sensitive and is not recommended
for outdoor cultivation in areas colder than USDA Zone 10, i.e.
with a minimum temperature of -1 to 4ºC.
Scadoxus rootstocks are planted just below the ground and are best
left undisturbed in the same position for many years. The soil must
be well-drained, rich and light, with plenty of leaf-mould or well-rotted
compost. The plants benefit greatly from regular liquid feeding.
Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katharinae likes plentiful
water when in active growth, but dislikes water-logged soils. In
winter rainfall areas, it has no trouble surviving the wet winters,
provided it is in a well-drained position.
This is a very useful plant for shady gardens, a handsome pot subject
for a large container on a shady stoep, and it is recommended as
an indoor plant. It looks particularly effective in large groups
under trees, where they do not seem to mind competition from tree
roots, provided the soil is good.
Propagation is by seed and offsets. The seed should be sown as
soon as it is ripe. This does not necessarily mean that the berries
must be removed the minute they turn red. If they are not under
threat from birds, or curious children, they can be left on without
harming the seed until they start to look a bit wrinkled, which
should be around early spring. Clean the pulp off, with care as
the seed underneath is soft and fleshy. The best is to rub or peel
it off. Use a well-drained, light potting mix, press the seed gently
into the soil, do not cover it but leave the tops just visible or
level with the soil surface. Keep damp but not waterlogged. Flowers
can be expected from the third season onwards. Offsets should be
removed after flowering i.e. in autumn, and replanted immediately.
Watch out for the Amaryllis lily borer which can severely damage
the whole plant. Slugs and snails can damage the foliage.
These plants are poisonous. The genus
Scadoxus contains alkaloid- rich, strongly toxic plants.
Two species Scadoxus multiflorus and Scadoxus cinnabarinus
are known to be used in Cameroon, Gabon, Angola and the Central
African Republic in conjunction with a number of other plants, as
an arrow poison. In Guinea and northern Nigeria the bulbs are used
to make a fishing poison. The bulb is also used to treat dropsy,
scabies and poorly healing wounds. In South Africa, Scadoxus
puniceus appears to be more commonly used where it is used to
treat coughs and gastro-intestinal problems and forms part of a
medicine taken during pregnancy to ensure a safe delivery. Please
be warned that these alkaloids are highly toxic and their indiscriminate
use is potentially lethal. They are known to be lethal to stock,
mainly goats and sheep grazing on them when other plants are scarce,
and the leaves appear to have exactly the same toxic effects as
There are nine species of Scadoxus, only three of which
occur in South Africa. Other South African species in the genus
include: Scadoxus membranaceus (= Haemanthus puniceus
var. membranaceus), Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. multiflorus
(= Haemanthus multiflorus, Haemanthus sacculus.) and Scadoxus
puniceus (= Haemanthus magnificus, Haemanthus natalensis)
Author: Alice Notten
- Du Plessis, N., & Duncan, G., 1989, Bulbous Plants of Southern
Africa, A guide to their Cultivation and Propagation, Tafelberg,
- Jackson, W.P.U., 1990, Origins and Meanings of Names of South
African Plant Genera, U.C.T. Printing Dept., Cape Town.
- Germishuizen, G., 1997, Wild Flowers of Northern South Africa, Fernwood Press, Cape Town
- Neuwinger, H.D., African Ethnobotany, Poisons and Drugs,
Chapman & Hall.
- van Wyk, B.E., van Oudtshoorn, B., Gericke, N., 1997, Medicinal
Plants of South Africa, Briza Publications, Pretoria.