A South African evergreen perennial with fleshy, bulb-like roots, Clivia miniata (ht 60 cm) has pale to medium orange flowers with yellow throats, in large clusters of upturned, funnel-shaped blooms, from late winter to early spring. Belgian hybrid forms have larger, richer reddish-orange flowers, and recent hybrids have been developed with yellow, peach, pink, lime, greenish-white, bronze blooms, as well as some with patterned petals. Clivia actually want to grow in shade, even quite deep, dry shade; in fact, their foliage and flowers will suffer if grown in too much sun. Their dark green, strappy leaves are attractive all year round and they slowly expand to form an excellent, low-maintenance groundcover in difficult shady spots.
Good drainage is essential. They appreciate watering in spring and summer during dry spells in their early days, but are tough and undemanding once established. Although frost-sensitive, they can be protected from milder frosts if grown under a tree or shrub canopy. Fertilise and apply an organic mulch around the plants in late winter or early spring.
The lively colour of orange Clivia flowers combines well with other hot coloured blooms of mid-late winter and early spring which grow in part-shade, such as red camellias, Abutilon, nasturtiums or firefly (Justicia rizzinii). The startling and unusual flower of the South African paintbrush lily bulb (Scadoxus puniceus) appears at exactly the same time as the Clivia and enjoys the same garden conditions. The colour of the clivia is also an effective partner to shade-tolerant blue or purple flowers, such as blubells, Brunfelsia species or Streptocarpus saxorum (sometimes called the nodding violet). In small gardens, the same colour combination can be achieved by growing clivias in a bright blue pot! In cold climates, they are grown as house plants.
Clivia seem subject to few diseases; however, in poorly drained soil they may become afflicted by collar rot. Removing the plant from the ground, dusting it with sulphur powder and wrapping it in sphagnum moss may save the plant. Pests include snails, which can destroy the flowers, or more seriously, the scary black and yellow striped amaryllis caterpillars (also known as the lily borers), which can cause a lot of damage to the whole plant in a very short time and should be dealt with promptly, using a product such as Success, Dipel or a pyrethrum spray. They can also be picked off by hand and squashed! Mealy bug may be a problem: try Eco Oil to control them. Remove shabby old foliage in late winter to groom the plants.
Clivias can be propagated by dividing the clumps at any time of year, or by sowing the fleshy seed, which will take around four to five years to produce a flowering plant. It is interesting to note that the colour of the seeds mirrors the colour of the flower, so that yellow-bloomed Clivia have yellow seeds (pictured at left) whereas the orange sorts produce orange-red seeds. I usually leave some of the seeds on the plant as they are rather decorative.
There are six species of Clivia, with Clivia miniata being the only one with upturned flowers. The remaining ones have pendulous blooms: the hybrid Clivia x cyrtanthiflora is the one with semi-pendulous flowers most commonly seen in Sydney gardens.
I have found Clivia to be an excellent cut flower. lasting up to a week in a vase.