Like many of the bulbs which do well in our Sydney gardens, the paintbrush lily hails from South Africa. Its large tulip-like red bud appears atop a stout stem about 45 cm tall in early August and gradually opens to a huge and extraordinary flower, which starts out looking rather like a waratah and ends up resembling an enormous red brush with luminescent orange bristles. The display lasts for many weeks. The big fleshy leaves follow soon after the flower opens and eventually die down at the end of summer. Large red seed pods develop in the ageing flowerhead, and these can be used to propagate the bulb.
It is a member of the Amaryllidaceae family of bulbs, many of which have the novel characteristic of sending up their flowering spikes almost overnight, seeming to come from nowhere - other examples include the belladonna lily Amaryllis belladonna and the spider lilies (Nerine and Lycoris, which bloom from late summer into autumn. Clivias (Clivia miniata) also belong to the Amaryllidaceae family, and with their bright orange clusters of flowers, these are ideal planting companions for the paintbrush lily, coming into full bloom at the same time and enjoying the same shady garden spot. Shrubby Chinese lanterns (Abutilon x hybridum) in hot colours of oranges, yellows and reds, or firefly (Justicia rizzinii) are other possible planting partners.
The paintbrush lily is dormant in winter and prefers to be kept dry at that time. It enjoys some moisture over summer but, on the whole, it is an easy-going plant which requires no special treatment to stage its amazing appearance every spring! It can be grown in a pot. Like many in the Amaryllidaceae family, it prefers to be left undisturbed. Nor should it be eaten, as it is toxic!