Plant Profile: Clivia

Clivia is a genus of herbaceous, evergreen flowering plants, and they are one of the few types of low light plants which produce flowers. While clivia plants grown in very low light rarely flower, if you're able to provide a little special care, you may be rewarded with blooms. However, even if they don't flower, they can still thrive in low light and produce beautiful foliage.

Clivia plants are very long-lived and have been known to survive up to 20 years. They have long, strappy , thick and waxy leaves, similar to those of the cast iron plant, which emerge from the soil directly opposite one another in an alternating pattern. Due to this unique growing habit, mature clivia plants form a very elegant and almost perfectly symmetrical shape. Leaves and stems can reach 20 inches in length.

The flowers of clivia plants are orange, lily-like and borne in crowded clusters atop a thick stem once per year, usually in early spring. Some hybrids have been developed recently which have yellow, pink and red flowers, and are much in demand by collectors. Blooming of clivia flowers lasts several weeks, and then clusters of large, berry-like fruit are formed. The fruit ripen the following winter and turn an attractive yellow or red color.

Other Names:
Clivia is sometimes known as the Kaffir lily, bush lily or flame lily.  

Native to southern Africa, clivia thrive on shady forest floors, which makes them great for low light growing conditions. Clivia plants were introduced to England in the late 19the century, and quickly became popular for the large, dark rooms in Victorian homes. They prefer moderate temperatures, and cannot tolerate extreme cold or heat.

Clivia will be happiest in an airy, well-drained potting mixture (not potting soil). For the best results, make your own mix by combining a few handfuls of coarse grit and leaf mold with fibrous loam. Perlite or well-composed pine bark mulch will also work. Ordinary potting soil and vermiculite are too dense for clivia and may contribute to root rot. 

Clivia are very good low-light plants, and will enjoy life in an east-facing window. However, you can even place them in a dimly lit corner and they'll manage to grow, although they may not flower. Clivia will grow in most light conditions, except bright direct light.

Keep clivia plants at a temperature of around 60 degrees Fahrenheit during spring and summer months. Never allow the temperatures to exceed 65 degrees Fahrenheit or drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit at any time. They can tolerate a very light frost, but the leaves will drop if exposed to heavy frosts. In early October, drop the temperature by around 10 or 15 degrees, and don't increase until a flower stem appears or two months have passed if you aren't trying to produce flowers.

The growing medium should be kept evenly moist during spring and summer months, and allowed to dry out slightly for a period of two months during the fall/winter. During this time, water only when the soil is dry to a depth of two inches. The best time to allow the drying period is in early October, when the temperature has been lowered. This routine will encourage clivia to flower the following spring. Once a flower stem has begun to grow, return to regular watering and normal growing temperatures.

Except for the two months in late fall/early winter, clivia should be watered any time the growing medium is dry to a depth of one inch. Stick your finger in to the first knuckle, and if the soil is dry to the touch, water thoroughly.

Fertilizer is not necessary for the life and growth of clivia, but it will benefit from added nutrients when flowering. Apply a complete liquid houseplant fertilizer (such as 6-10-4) in early spring, as the flower buds appear. Refer to the manufacturer's directions for dosage and application instructions. 

Clivia plants don't require much pruning. Flowers can be removed once they fade, or they can be left to seed. The seedlings produced from this cycle will flower in four to five years if replanted and maintained. Yellowing outer leaves should be removed periodically. Aside from this, no other pruning is necessary.

Only repot in a larger container when the roots of your clivia plant become so large and swollen that they push the growing medium up and over the side of the pot. Clivia performs better, and produces flowers more easily, when the roots are slightly constricted by a small pot. Do not repot into too large a container when it's time, but instead look for a pot that's only marginally larger.

Propagating clivia plants consists of removing offshoots. When a plant matures after three or four years of age, it will begin to produce a few offshoots each year. Wait for an offshoot to form three or four leaves, and then remove it from the mother plant, making sure to include some roots. Place in a pot of its own, and care for the offshoot as you would any other clivia  Before you know it, you'll have another thriving plant.

Clivia is prone to infestation by the lily caterpillar (Spodoptora picta), which is related to the cut worm. The lily caterpillar has yellow, gray and black stripes, and black dots that look like eyes on its head and body. It can grow to two inches at maturity, and eventually becomes a red and cream-colored moth. If left untreated, the pest can cause sever damage or even kill a clivia plant.

The lily caterpillar pupates in leaf litter, feeds on the plant during the night and hides during the day. If you suspect an infestation, check the underside of the leaves and into the base of the plant early in the morning or during the night. If you spot caterpillars, they can be removed manually and destroyed or released.


Lawrence Weber said...

You mention that Clivia have been know to survive up to 20 years. Double that. I have two that I started from seed in 1976. I have off-shoots from it that are 20 years old.

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