Blood Lily Care: How To Grow An African Blood Lily Plant
By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Native to South Africa, African blood lily (Scadoxus puniceus), also known as snake lily plant, is an exotic tropical perennial. This plant produces reddish-orange globes of pincushion-like blooms in late spring and early summer. The flashy, 10-inch blooms make the plant a real show stopper. Read on to learn about growing African blood lilies in your garden.
How to Grow an African Blood Lily
Growing African blood lilies outdoors is possible only in the warm climates of USDA plant hardiness zones 9 through 12.
Plant blood lily bulbs with the necks even with, or slightly above, the surface of the soil.
If your soil is poor, dig in a few inches of compost or manure, as blood lily bulbs need rich, well-drained soil. The plant thrives in either partial shade or full sunlight.
Growing African Blood Lilies in Cool Climates
If you live north of USDA zone 9 and you have your heart set on growing this spectacular flower, dig the bulbs before the first frost in autumn. Pack them in peat moss and store where temperatures remain between 50 and 60 degrees F. (10-15 C.) Replant the bulbs outdoors when you’re sure all danger of frost has passed in spring.
You can also grow snake lily plants in containers. Bring the container indoors when nighttime temperatures fall below 55 degrees F. (13 C.) Let the leaves dry out and don’t water until spring.
African Blood Lily Care
Water African blood lily regularly throughout the growing system. This plant does best when ground is consistently moist, but never soggy. Gradually reduce watering and allow the foliage to die down in late summer. When the plant goes dormant, withhold water until spring.
Feed the plant once or twice during the growing season. Use a light application of any balanced garden fertilizer.
A Note of Caution: Use care when growing African blood lilies if you have pets or small children. They may be attracted to the colorful flowers, and the plants are mildly toxic. Ingesting the plants may result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive salivation.
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Blood Lily: How To Grow And Care For The Haemanthus
The Blood Lily or African Blood Lily is part of the Scadoxus multiflorus, formerly Haemanthus multiflorus genus, a group of perennial bulbous plants which number about sixty.
Blood Lilies in particular may be further divided into two classifications – the evergreen kind or the deciduous variety.
Pin Spectacular Flower of the Blood Lily Scadoxus multiflorus
Evergreen Blood Lilies are known for having relatively sizable, succulent leaves and the hardy aspect of thriving all year long. The Deciduous Blood Lilies require a period of rest if the owner wishes to see them bloom the next season.
This South African genus and its known species can be found in Arabia, Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia and Botswana.
On the other hand, the blood lily Scadoxus puniceus species (paintbrush lily) are native mostly to the Cape Town or eastern Cape provinces in South Africa.
The term “Haemanthus” means blood flower in botanical books. The African Blood Lily, or the Haemanthus albiflos of the evergreen variety, characterized by a broad, colorful foliage shaped like a tongue and large, egg-shaped bulbs.
Don’t let the fearsome name fool you. The globe shaped flower of a Blood Lily can either come in white or in a variety of red, growing in clusters and appears to have small, flat heads which resemble a tiny paintbrush.
The small bunches are surrounded by either white or dark green bracts, which make them attractive house plants.
The flower’s highlight may very well be its yellow anthers that are bright and complement the red/white appearance well, giving the look of a fiery fireball!
While the fireball lily does not exhibit a notable fragrance, it’s impressive look more than makes up for the lack of scent.
The addition of evergreen leaves make it last all year long, but those without this aspect lose their leaves at the end of the blooming season.
The African blood lily shows off its breathtaking color and bright spathes approximately 3 to 4 months of the year.
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Blood Lily Bulbs - Information And Tips For Growing Blood Lilies - garden
Belladona, Nerines and Blood lily - Autumn Flowering Bulbs from Southern Africa
Autumn flowering bulbs are often unappreciated but they can bring so much colour and joy to a garden at a time of year when most flowers have retreated. They draw attention and call to be noticed in gardens when little else is in full bright bloom. Bulbs of Southern Africa’s Amaryllidaceae family include Belladonna, Nerines and Blood Lilies. Many varieties of these plants have evolved to adapt and thrive in climates with dry summers similar to climate regions within Australia, making them a valuable tough addition to gardens. Depending on the variety, flowers emerge and bloom from late summer to mid-late autumn without foliage and hence they are commonly referred to as ‘naked ladies’ being without foliage at the start of flowering. Strappy foliage can appear during or after the flowering period.
Producing tall proud clusters of trumpet-like flowers perfumed and proud in height and flower size. Named from a Latin description of ‘beautiful lady’. Indigenous to the Cape province in South Africa, it is reknown for the tall flower stems.
Nerine species have flowers with six wavy petals, featuring recurved tips and pronounced stigma that thrust forward and upwards like many lilies. Petals appear with an iridescent sheen, giving the flowers a jewel-like quality. Genus ‘Nerine’, first published in 1820 by botanist William Herbert, is a reference from Greek mythology to the sea nymphs ‘Nereids’.
A hybrid of a Belladonna and Nerine, Amaraine shares the features of both - perfumed like a Belladonna but with large recurved petals that draw comparisons to Nerines.
Large structural flowers emerge from two tongue-shaped leaves. Reminiscent of a creature you might see underwater in the ocean, though varieties are available in different colours, they are best identifiable for their rich blood coloured flowers.
Bulbs of the Amaryllidaceae family all naturalise in the garden, meaning the bulbs establish themselves, reproduce without assistance over time, and increase their flowering with each following year.
Cultivation of Belladonna, Nerine and Blood Lily Bulbs
As bulbs with a Southern African origin, these drought tolerant varieties thrive in warm full sun positions but some varieties can tolerate partial shade. Well drained soil is a must as bulbs can risk rotting in boggy and heavy clay soils. Plant shallowly in the ground so the ‘neck’ of the bulb is above the surface. This planting depth differs to common spring flowering bulbs such as Narcissus and Freesias, which are planted well beneath the soil.
Bulbs, especially autumn flowering varieties that have evolved from a dry summer climate, are very tolerant of dry periods in the garden. Bulbs are their own storage vessel and will transition in and out of dormancy depending on the season and suitable conditions. Little additional watering is required during the growing season. Species of these bulbs can self-seed in good conditions but hybrids can be sterile.
Autumn flowering bulbs rest over summer and flower in autumn, preferring warm well-drained positions in full sun. They benefit from an application of liquid fertiliser once the strappy foliage emerges, after flowering. Foliage will often die back in late spring and over summer during the hotter times of the year, so avoid removing foliage until this is complete as the bulb is drawing nutrients from the leaves.
Resilient to diseases and most pests if grown in suitable conditions, slugs and snails can damage the new foliage especially with regular rainfall. If bulbs are grown under shelter such as a greenhouse or inside in colder wetter climates, aphids, mealy bugs and red spider mites can be a problem. Monitor and check under leaves for any emerging pests in growing inside or in a greenhouse.
Some species, such as Nerines, do not compete well with other plants, so consider their spacing on planning and avoid planting with vigorous ground covers. Consider a light mulch around the neck of the bulbs to suppress weeds.
As the bulbs will often be dormant without flowers or foliage during the year, mark the bulbs' location with a label to avoid disturbing them with other plantings.
The flowering times of Belladonna, Nerine and Blood lilies make them a great addition to garden beds and can be used with a combination of spring and summer flowering perennials for an extended flowering season from spring into autumn. Belladonna and Blood Lily have structural blooms which are proud and prominent and can be planted in dry and drought tolerant plantings as a feature with their bright blooms. Nerines are a more delicate flower and blend well with romantic cottage style flower gardens. Nerines and Belladonna can be can be planted and naturalised en masse for a woodland or meadow effect under the partial canopy of trees but keep in mind some species do not perform well with strong competition. Bulbs can also be utilised in sparser gravel gardens as the gravel mulch provides a solid backdrop to their prominent beauty. With large prominent leaves and structural flowers, Blood Lilies work well in succulent collections and dry structural gardens.
The structural blooms and strong stems of Belladonna and Nerine make for stunning cut flowers and have great longevity in vases once cut.
Growing in pots and containers
All bulbs in Amaryllidaceae family are very versatile autumn flowers for pots and other containers. By growing them in pots they can be moved to create focal points in a garden or smaller courtyard when in flower, and positioned or tucked away elsewhere when in dormancy. As large bulbs they will need a pot with adequate space and a well drained good quality potting mix. If gardening in a colder or wetter climate, consider adding rough sand or extra gravel to increase drainage. Repot every year or so as the cluster of bulbs increases and more space is required.
How to Grow Oxblood Lily (Schoolhouse Lily) Flowers
By Matt Gibson and Erin Marissa Russell
If you are looking for a tropical flower to add a burst of exotic color and style to your flower garden, and you live in a warm climate area, you might want to try growing oxblood lily flowers. Oxblood lilies are also known as schoolhouse lilies, because of their blooming time, which coincides with schools starting back up in the fall, or hurricane lilies, as their blooms also line up with storm season in the Southern United States.
Though less common in the north, oxblood lilies are actually remarkably cold hardy plants that can withstand icy temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Oxbloods are generally hardy to zones eight through eleven, but Northern gardeners down as low as zone seven can also grow oxblood lilies in a sheltered location, or in extremely cold climates, oxblood lilies can be grown indoors as houseplants.
Native to Argentina and Uruguay, the oxblood flower is cultivated for its eye-catching blooms. The gorgeous flowers are deep blood red and have the ability to stand out in a crowd, even amongst an array of other bright colors. Oxblood lilies, or Rhodophiala, bloom throughout autumn and go dormant in the summer. The blooms are shaped like the amaryllis flower, with which they share the same plant family. Each individual bloom is only open for two to three days, but each clump will continue to produce new blooms for around one month.
Though care for Rhodophiala is relatively specific, the flower is very hardy and adapts well to various soil conditions. First introduced in Texas around the early 1800’s by Peter Henry Oberwetter, a German immigrant and botanist that settled in the Texas Hill Country just before the Civil War. Today, the oxblood lily is a rarity in nurseries and garden centers, and is primarily passed around between gardeners and friends to add a brilliant red intensity to autumn landscapes.
Oxblood lilies are mostly confined to the meadows of East Texas, and the South Texas Hill Country, near where Mr. Oberwetter grew his nursery beds, but there have been sightings of oxbloods as far west as California, and as far east as Florida. No matter where they are grown, the exotic red blooms are a magnet for hummingbirds and other pollinators.
Varieties of Oxblood Lilies
Though there are just under 30 species of Rhodophiala growing in Uruguay and Argentina, as well as Chile, and southern Brazil. Some species grow from fall to spring and go dormant in the Summer, while others grow from spring to autumn and require a full winter dormancy. Flowers appear just after dormancy periods in either the fall or spring.
Only the R. bifida cultivar has been naturalized in North America, as it is the hardiest, most heat-tolerant, and easiest to grow. The bifida, or oxblood species also does not require a dry dormancy and needs a little bit of rainfall all year long. In zone seven and up, the R. bifida cultivar thrives in any soil type. There are three cultivars under the R. bifida umbrella one is a pink variety called R. bifida var. Spathacea. There is also an orange-red variety called, R.bifida var. Grandiflora. However, the red variety, R. bifida var. vermillion is the most vigorous, and the most common. Rhodophiala is a member of the amaryllis plant family.
Growing Conditions for Oxblood Lilies
Oxblood lilies grow well in full sun and partial shade locations. Pick a spot that gets an average of six to eight hours of sunlight per day. Flowerheads will survive longer with a little bit of afternoon shade during the hottest time of day. Oxblood lilies are incredibly hardy plants that are adaptable to a wide range of soil mediums. They even grow well in heavy clay soils, as long as they are well-draining. Boggy soil types will quickly kill oxbloods. They will adapt to any pH range from heavily alkaline to heavily acidic soil types. Oxblood lilies are heat tolerant and relatively drought tolerant except for during the spring, in which they require consistent rain in order to form both leaves and flowers.
How to Plant Oxblood Lilies
Plant your oxblood lilies in the spring after leaves have died back. Alternatively, bulbs can be planted in the late summer to early autumn. Sow bulbs three to four inches deep placing them in the ground so that the neck faces upwards. Space bulbs at least eight inches apart from each other and other neighboring plants. Bulbs are planted deeply in the soil and may even travel deeper on their own to help protect themselves during dormancy. Though the bulbs are leafless during the summer months, they are not truly dormant, as the root system stays active all year long.
Care for Oxblood Lilies
Although well established oxblood lilies are extremely hardy plants that are tolerant of dry weather, in the first year of growth, they do require consistent watering from the gardener. To facilitate blooming, you can also provide the flowers with a treatment of 5-5-10 fertilizer in the summertime. Follow the instructions in the next section under “How to Propagate Oxblood Lilies” to divide your bulbs every few years, or they will stop blooming.
How to Propagate Oxblood Lilies
There are three ways to propagate oxblood lilies: by division or from seed, direct sowing either as soon as you can work the garden in spring or after the last frost of the fall. Be advised that sowing seeds is not especially reliable, so it’s not recommended. Most gardeners have much greater success when they grow these lilies from bulbs.
To divide oxblood lilies, you can either divide the rhizomes, the tubers, the corbs, or bulbs (including any offsets). Division can be performed at any time of year, but if you’d like to avoid interfering with the blooming cycle of your lilies, time your division so you’ll be transplanting them in early summer or late in the springtime, just as foliage begins to die back.
It is not required to divide lilies that are still blooming well, as you can leave them in place without division for several years, and they will continue to bloom happily in clumps. If you notice your lilies are failing to bloom, however, division may be just what they need.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Oxblood Lilies
Gardeners who grow oxblood lilies should be aware of the following pests and diseases so they can monitor their plants for symptoms. The sooner you notice an infection or infestation is occuring, the easier the issue will be to treat since it will not have had time to spread very much. Scale and spider mites are more likely to inhabit lilies that are kept indoors, as the drier conditions are a better habitat for these insects. Outdoors, they do not usually have problems with pests or disease at all.
Root Rot: You can prevent root rot from taking hold in your lilies by being careful not to overwater them. If an issue persists, check to make sure the soil has sufficient drainage and that the spot where they are planted gets sufficient air circulation. The symptoms of root rot begin underground, so the disease sometimes goes unnoticed for a while. The roots will change texture and color, developing soggy areas that are dark instead of the pale shade of healthy roots. If root rot is allowed to progress, plants will eventually begin showing signs of damage above ground, such as wilting or stunted growth.
You can pull up a plant that you suspect has root rot and examine the root system. If you see symptoms of root rot, use clean, sterilized shears to snip away the discolored sections of the root system that are affected by the disease. If the roots are still waterlogged, you can lay the plant out in the sun or on newspapers to allow the roots to dry out before you put the plant back into the ground. For more information, read our article How to Fight Stem and Root Rot.
Scale: Scale insects only grow to be half an inch long, and they come in shades of green, brown, gray, and black. These insects have armored shells, so an infested plant may appear to simply have bumps along the stems or branches. Sometimes, scales will emit a clear, sticky substance that remains on the surface of plants called honeydew. This substance attracts ants, and noticing it on a plant can help to diagnose the presence of scale.
If there are only a few insects on your plants, you can remove them by scraping them off with a twig, scrub brush, or gardening tool. (Make sure to use a clean, sterile tool or a twig that does not have signs of infestation or disease.) You may choose to make the task shorter by simply snipping off the parts of the plant that are affected instead of scraping off the scale insects when infestation is not too severe.
When infestations are light, you can also make a homemade neem oil spray to lessen the amount the scale insects feed on plants and stop new insects from moving in. Mix a liter of warm water with four or five drops of dish soap and a teaspoon of neem oil, then apply to plants about twice per week.
You can also use predatory insects such as ladybugs, lace wings, or parasitic wasps, which will prey on the scale insects (or, in the case of the wasps, cause the scale insects’ death by laying eggs inside their bodies). Severe infestation cases can be treated with horticultural oil. For more information, read our article How to Control Scale Insects.
Spider Mites: Spider mites are technically spiders, not mites, and are as tiny as the period at the end of a sentence. They are extremely tiny and tend to spread and multiply very quickly, not to mention being able to kill a plant. Plants that spider mites are feeding on will exhibit spots or stripes on their leaves in shades of yellow, tan, or white. If left unchecked, a spider mite infestation can cause leaves to change color entirely, shrink, or drop from the plant. The tiny white and red spots that move are the spider mites themselves. You’ll also see cottony webbing appear on the underside of plant foliage when an infestation is in progress.
Quarantine plants with signs of spider mite damage as soon as you notice it, because they use their webbing to travel in the wind from plant to plant, so they can go long distances in quite a short time. Remove this webbing if you see it, not only to deter the spread of spider mites but also so that the treatments explained below can reach the insects.
If you catch the invasion early enough, you can treat spider mites with targeted jets of water from the garden hose. Do be aware that you will need to repeat the treatment several times in order for it to be effective, and it only really works on light infestations. More serious cases can be treated by releasing parasitic mites or ladybugs, which you can purchase online or at many nurseries and garden centers. You can also use horticultural oil or the homemade neem oil spray recommended in the scale insect section to fight spider mites. To make it, simply combine a liter of warm water with four or five drops of dish soap and a teaspoon of neem oil. For more information, read our article How to Fight Spider Mites.
It can be difficult for some gardeners to match oxblood lilies with other flowers in the garden because the burgundy background combined with the pink and white contrasting stripe makes both pink and red a little too much of the same thing. While pairing these blossoms with a background of white provides high contrast, it may be a bit too striking for some tastes. Some gardeners recommend partnering oxblood lilies with dark green or paler chartreuse shades in the garden, and yellow flowers will match well with the interior anthers of the lilies. Keep in mind when you’re planning a flower garden that oxblood lilies don’t bloom until September, when many of the blossoms surrounding it will already be spent for the season.
Toxicity Warning! Oxblood lilies can be toxic to small pets, as well as humans if ingested. All parts of the plant are toxic, and can cause digestive unrest. Smaller pets, such as small cats and dogs, may experience more severe stomach pains than larger pets or humans, but ingestion is not life-threatening. Still, take care to grow oxblood lilies in locations that are out of reach of small children, and in places where your pets are not likely to travel.
The first time I saw the African blood lily was at a flower show in Atlanta. I was stunned at its size and beauty, and I put it on my ever-growing bucket list of must-have flowers. Now, thanks to my innovative Horticulture Coordinator Jamie Burghardt, I, along with the throngs of visitors to the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georgia, get to relish in their beauty every year.
The African blood lily is known botanically as Scadoxus multiflorus, a change from the Haemanthus multiflorus seen that day at the Atlanta flower show. It is in the Amaryllis family and is indeed native to South Africa. A lot of literature suggests it is perennial only for zones 9 to 11, but it is not hard to find long-term trials where it survives in zone 7b with great winter drainage.
This is particularly true for the subspecies katherinae. Sometimes this is referred to as “Katherine’s torch lily.” Most think the common name “blood lily” somehow references the vibrant color of the blooms. It is actually a reference to the bulbs, which look as though blood has been dripped on their sides. In addition to blood lily, other common names are fireball lily, powderpuff lily and football lily.
Our expanding patch or clump at the UGA garden is now three years old. It has been surprising to see the dramatic increase in size and the number of flower stalks in such a short amount of time, especially given reports that they like to be root-bound to bloom. Ours are growing on a lakeside shoreline in our Shade Garden. They get morning sun and afternoon shade, and, while the soil is not luxuriant in fertility, it does have superb drainage.
The flowers are comprised of large, 6-inch umbels, or softball-sized globes, borne on stalks about 12 to 18 inches tall. Each sphere has dozens of red florets with yellow stamens. This creates one of the showiest floral displays in the plant world.
The African blood lily bulb should be planted deep enough so that the top of the neck is above the soil surface. If you are like us and buy container-grown plants, place the plant in a well-prepared bed with the top of the root ball even with the soil surface. This is one flower that deserves to be clustered in a group of five to seven, spaced 10 to 12 inches apart to create a dazzling, traffic-stopping show.
Your landscape partners are only limited by your imagination. Know that the cluster of fiery red globes stand out against a backdrop of green foliage. Within proximity of our cluster, we have large farfugium, or giant leopard plants, as well as fatsia.
The foliage of the African blood lily, although much smaller, has a texture similar to bananas and even some gingers, so a tropical-style garden of coarse foliage would partner to perfection. Clusters of blood lilies, however blooming, with the deep blue spikes of ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ salvia and ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia would create a cottage garden long remembered.
Don’t forget that, at best, we are talking about a zone 7b plant with the subspecies katherinae, so you may elect to grow them in containers. An image search on the internet will show you scores of dazzling photos proving the concept. If you are in a colder zone, whether they’re in containers or in the landscape, reducing water and moving them to a warm winter location will be mandatory. The bulbs can be easily dug and stored in dry peat for the winter rest.
The African blood lily doesn’t have to just be a plant you dream about growing or even that you have to wait to grow until you move California or the Deep South.