On Gardening: African blood lily, most stunning of all bulbs

June 12, 2017

The African blood lily forms 6-inch umbels or globes with dozens of red florets.

The first time I saw the African blood lily was at a flower show in Atlanta. I was stunned at its size and beauty, and I put it on my ever-growing bucket list of must have flowers. Now thanks to my innovative Horticulture Coordinator Jamie Burghardt, I along with the throngs of visitors to the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens get to relish in their beauty every year.

The African blood lily is known botanically as Scadoxus multiflorus, a change from the Haemanthus multiflorus. It is in the Amaryllis family and is indeed native to South Africa. A lot of literature suggests perennial only for zones 9-11, but it is not hard to find long term trials where it is surviving in zone 7-b with great winter drainage.

This is particularly true for the subspecies Katherinae. Sometimes this is referred to as Katherineís torch lily. Most think that the common name blood lily somehow references the vibrant color of the blooms, but it refers to the bulbs looking as though blood had dripped on their sides. In addition to blood lily, other common names are fireball lily, powderpuff lily, and football lily.

Our expanding patch or clump is now three years old. It has been surprising to see the dramatic increase in size and the number of flower stalks in such a short amount of time, especially from reports that they like to be rootbound to bloom. Ours are growing on a lakeside shoreline in our shade garden. They get morning sun and afternoon shade, and while the soil is not the most fertile, it does have excellent drainage.

The flowers have large 6-inch umbels or softball sized globes borne on stalks about 12- to 18-inches in height. Each sphere, if you will, has dozens of red florets with yellow stamens. This creates one of the showiest floral displays in the plant world.

The African blood lily bulb is planted deep enough so that the top of the neck is above the soil surface. If you are like us and buy container-grown plants, then place in the well-prepared bed with the top of the root ball even with the surface of the ground. This is one flower that deserves to be clustered in a group of 5 to 7 spacing 10- to- 12 inches to create a dazzling traffic-stopping show.

Your landscape partners are only limited by your imagination. The cluster of fiery, red globes standout against a backdrop of green foliage. Within proximity of our cluster, we have large farfugium or giant leopard plants as well as fatsia.

The foliage of the African blood lily though much smaller does have that texture or similarity with bananas and even some gingers, so a tropical style garden of coarse foliage would partner well. Clusters of blood lilies, however, blooming with the deep-blue spikes of Mystic Spires salvia and Goldsturm rudbeckia would create a cottage garden long remembered.

Donít forget at best we are talking a zone 7b plant with the subspecies Katherinae so you may elect to grow them in containers. An image search on the internet will show you scores of dazzling photos proving the concept. If you are, however, in a colder zone, whether in containers or the landscape reducing water and moving to a warm winter location will be mandatory. The bulbs can be easily dug up and stored in dry peat for the winter rest.

The African Blood lily doesnít have to be just a plant you dream about growing or even that you have to wait until you move to California or the Deep South. You can get it growing now and then show off your blooms to your gardening friends.



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