The spectacular paintbrush lily is one of South Africa's most striking
bulbous plants. Growing naturally in shady areas in coastal bush,
ravines and forest, it can be found in the northern provinces, Free
State, KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape; with its distribution
extending to Tropical Africa. This species is quite variable and
a number of different forms occur throughout its distribution range.
There are nine species of Scadoxus, of which three (S.puniceus,
S.multiflorus and S.membranaceus) occur in South Africa. Closely
related to Haemanthus, Scadoxus was separated in
order to distinguish those plants with elongated stems (Scadoxus)
from those with broad, stemless leaves (Haemanthus). The
paintbrush lily was formerly known as Haemanthus magnificus.
The name Scadoxus is derived from "doxus" meaning
glory or splendour, and punicues means crimson, scarlet or
spring and early summer the Scadoxus puniceus bears large
dense heads (inflorescences) up to 15cm across consisting of numerous
smaller scarlet flowers with bright yellow anthers. The flower stalk
may reach up to 50-60cm and is often spotted with purple near the
base. The inflorescences are borne within bracts which may be large
and dark purplish red in colour. Sunbirds, weavers and other nectivorous
birds feed on the nectar produced by the flowers.
The young inflorescence, protected by bracts and borne on the red/purple
spotted flower stalk, appears first, followed by the stem which
bears 6-8 leaves. The leaves are glossy green, reach 30-40cm in
length and have wavy margins. They are held erect clasping at the
base to form a pseudostem (false stem) which has red/purple speckled
scale leaves at the base.
The large underground bulbs may be up to 10cm across and have a
short thick stem at the base from which numerous fleshy roots arise.
The plants are dormant in winter and use the large bulbs and roots
to store moisture during this period.
The fruits are fleshy, round, shiny red berries up to ±1cm
in diameter. They bear single soft pearl-like seeds inside. Ripe
berries eaten by birds / monkeys
As within many of the closely related amaryllids, this bulb is
poisonous and deaths have been reported following the ingestion
of the bulb. However this species is widely used in traditional
medicine to treat coughs and gastro-intestinal problems. It has
also traditionally been used as part of a medicine taken regularly
during pregnancy to ensure a safe delivery.
Growing Scadoxus puniceus
A popular garden subject, the paintbrush lily has been in cultivation
in Holland since early 18th century. It does well planted in the
ground or in containers. Plant in composted, well drained soil in
a shady position. Do not move or disturb the bulb unnecessarily
as flowering may be affected. Water regularly in summer and keep
reasonably dry in winter. Amaryllis lily borer can cause severe
damage to the whole plant, and slugs and snails can damage the foliage
The Scadoxus puniceus may be propagated from seed which
must be sown fresh. It is slow-growing and will take 4-5 years before
This lovely plant is usually available at specialist indigenous
nurseries or at your local National Botanical Garden. Be sure not
to purchase them alongside the road or from sellers who cannot assure
you of the plant's origin. Many of these plants are indiscriminately
removed from the wild and sold when they are in flower.
- Batten, A. (1986) Flowers of Southern Africa. Frandsen Publishers
- Duncan, G. (2000) Grow Bulbs. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series.
National Botanical Institute : Cape Town
- Du Plessis, N. & Duncan, N. (1989). Bulbous Plants of Southern
Africa. Tafelberg Publishers : Cape Town.
- Fabian, A. & Germishuizen, G. (1997) Wild Flowers of Northern
South Africa. Fernwood Press : Cape Town.
- Joffe, P. (1993). The Gardener's Guide to South African Plants.
Tafelberg Publishers : Cape Town.
- Pooley, E. (1998). A Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of KwaZulu-Natal
and the Eastern Region. Natal Flora Publications Trust : Durban.
- Van Wyk, B. & Malan, S. (1988) Field Guide to the Wild Flowers
of the Witwatersrand and Pretoria Region. Struik Publishers :
- Van Wyk, B-E. et al (1997) Medicinal Plants of South Africa.
Briza Publications : Pretoria.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden