Sunday 24 September 2017

Curious fire lily that friends love to pass on

THE Scarborough lily is also known as 'fire lily' because of its bright orange-red flowers, trumpet-shaped and carried in a group at the top of an elegant stem. It is in flower at this time of year, a curious plant because it is rarely seen for sale but is passed on by friends and neighbours who admire the surprising large flowers.

The flowers, though smaller, are very like those of the hippeastrum or amaryllis, to which it is related. It is an easy plant to pass on because it produces numerous small daughter bulbs, from pea-size to the size of a cherry and, if these are potted up and looked after, they will flower in about three years. Sometimes the little bulbs are so numerous that they push each other out of the compost.

The correct botanical name is Cyrtanthus elatus. It was formerly known as vallota and that name is still sometimes used. Native to South Africa, the Scarborough of the name is a reference to a town in that country, not the city in England.

It grows in dry, grassy areas that are subject to brush fires, after which the bulbs flower. This is how it gets the name fire lily.

In its native country, it produces pink and yellow flowers occasionally, but the form grown here has bright orange-scarlet flowers. The plant is evergreen or semi-evergreen with narrow strap-like, dark-green leaves, pretty for its foliage though not drawing attention until it flowers.

The bulbs have a reddish purple tinge and they push their noses slightly out of the soil. They can be left in the same pot for many years, as a group of bulbs take turns to flower, having reached flowering size, which is about the size of a large chestnut.

The fire lily flowers in August or September -- some years earlier, and later in others. Sometimes no flower is produced at all. It is not a bad idea to have several pots of bulbs to increase the chances of getting flowers. Keep the pots in a greenhouse and bring it into the house in flower, or keep it as a house plant or in a porch to flower where it is.

More regular flowering, and a greater number of flowers on each stem, will be achieved if the plants are looked after well, watering them regularly during the summer and feeding with a dilute feed every two weeks, and keeping them slightly dry in winter.

Use a mixture of one part compost, one part coarse sand and two parts garden soil to make a compost for potting them up.

This holds moisture when watered but drains the excess. Place the pots in a sunny place with some shade for part of the day.

Sunday Independent

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