Friday 20 April 2018

Fire lily is fleeting but lovely

The flowering period for the fire lily is a mere three weeks long
The flowering period for the fire lily is a mere three weeks long

Gerry Daly

The fire lily or Scarborough lily is a real gem. It has the most beautiful bright scarlet flowers, lily-like, at the top of a slender but sturdy flower stem. It is a house plant for a sunny window sill, and does well in a greenhouse or conservatory. The flowering period is a fleeting three weeks with each tall stem carrying three to nine flowers open in sequence.

Known as 'fire lily' in its native range in South Africa, it grows in dry grassy areas that are subject to brush fires, after which the bulbs flower. Its correct botanical name is Cyrtanthus elatus, and it was formerly called vallota. The plant is named after Scarborough, a town of that name in South Africa, not the original Scarborough in England.

In its native land, it produces pink or yellow flowers occasionally, but the form grown here has bright orange-scarlet flowers. The plant is deciduous or semi-evergreen with narrow strap-like, dark green leaves. The bulbs have a reddish purple tinge and they push their noses slightly out of the soil.

The bulbs produce lots of small daughter bulbs and fill the pot eventually. The little pea-sized bulbs can be removed and potted up to reach flowering size. The plant is generally passed around as a few bulbs and is hardly ever seen for sale commercially.

In a crowded pot, the same bulbs do not flower every year. The bulbs reach flowering size in about three years but do not flower again for a year or more. Sometimes the large old bulbs just dry up and wither, or get pushed out. If there are several large bulbs in the pot together, there is a better chance of having a show of flowers each year. Keep the pots in a greenhouse and bring them indoors to a more prominent position when they are in flower.

More regular flowering is 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. The daughter bulbs will also reach flowering size more quickly if this practice is followed.

If you have bulbs but they have not flowered, feed, water and make sure to give full sunshine.

Q I have a climbing rose, grown from a slip I took from a cottage wall in the 1980s. I know it to have been growing there for a long time before that. It has a lot of sentimental value. It blooms every year and the short-lived pink roses exude a beautiful perfume. The sparse foliage is always marked with black spots and even the climbing branches look as if they are struggling to survive. Is there anything I can do to save it? M Hearne, Co Wexford

A Old roses are weakened by blackspot disease. Give it some rose fertiliser in spring, following the directions on the packet, and take a few insurance cuttings in summer.

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