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Clivia - The "Kaffir Lily"
by Fred Davis, MG, Hill Gardens of Maine (To view other articles, click:

January, 2006: What about Seeds?  |  March, 2007: Note of concern about the common name 


Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! At a coastal lecture which I delivered a few years back, I was asked several questions regarding problems with Clivia. I must admit that I hadn't given Clivia much thought since my 1950's school days but, by playing the role of my favorite sleuth—Sherlock Holmes—somehow managed to gracefully satisfy the immediate need and, on the trip back home that evening, determined to refresh my faded memory about this distinctive and most attractive houseplant.

Clivia has been a big hit with indoor-plant types for many years. With a name commemorating a former Duchess of Northumberland—a member of the Clive family—this handsome plant is a close relative of Hybrid Amaryllis, and is native to South Africa. It has thick, deep green, strap-like leaves which all seem to grow on one, flat plane, arising from a bulb-like base and arching in a graceful fan on either side of a thick flower-bearing stalk. Normal flowering time ranges from spring to early summer.

Flowers form a sort of pom-pom of very pretty, lily-like "trumpets" in shades of orangey-red, pale yellow or apricot. While each individual flower lasts only a few days, new buds continue to open in a succession of color which endures for several weeks. New "baby" plants are regularly produced at the base and, if left in place, form a particularly attractive sight when flower stalks emerge. There should be no great concern about crowding; Clivias will flower better when their roots feel a little cramped for space. Repotting should only be done every three or four years. When masses of roots are visible at the soil surface, it's time to repot.

Potting soil for Clivias should consist of fibrous loam, with a helping of coarse grit and well-decayed leaf mold. A tablespoonful of pelleted, sustained-release fertilizer added to the mix wouldn't go amiss. Most nurseries and garden centers stock Osmokote pelleted three-to-four-month fertilizer for houseplants. It's a good idea to keep this quite-large houseplant in a clay pot—the heavier, the better—so it'll be less apt to tip over.

Problems: Shriveling and color changes in leaves are usually the result of over- or under-watering - the cause of most of Clivia's problems. They need ample moisture during the active growing and flowering period, but deeply resent being forced to sit in a saucer of water day after day. They're not likely to be pleased with drying out, either. Give Clivia—and just about all of your other houseplants—a good shower and thorough flushing-drenching (to remove accumulated fertilizer salts) about once every month.

If the plants are subjected to direct sunlight, leaves may scorch and flowers may appear distorted in some way—particularly when that sunlight is combined with too much heat. 

Mealybugs can be a problem but are easily dispatched using a soft cloth or cotton-tipped swab dipped in straight rubbing alcohol. Repeat this treatment in about a week to catch hatchlings.

Troubles arise when, because the leaves look so much like Hippeastrum (Hybrid Amaryllis), gardeners automatically assume they need a total fall-and-winter dormancy period. Clivias do, indeed, require a few cool months to rest after active growth and flowering. They resent, however, being denied moisture during that time.

Here's the trick: water your Kaffir* Lily freely through early September, then reduce moisture and maintain a cool temperature (about 50 degrees F.) during late fall and winter; don't allow it to become so dry that remaining leaves wilt...wilted leaves spell serious trouble for a tired Clivia "bulb."

As spring approaches, increase temperature to about 60 degrees (avoid temperatures above 65 degrees!), allowing more light and water as days lengthen.

While a filled-out "clump" in a pot is a spectacular show, you may liberate a "baby" at the time of repotting to increase your quantity or to share with a gardening friend. Carefully tip the entire plant from its pot; carefully - so as to disturb roots as little as necessary - cut away an offset and plant it in a three- or four-inch clay pot. Don't worry if the offset comes away without any roots, they'll form in a couple of weeks. Once established, they can be treated as adults.

You'll find Clivia at larger nurseries and garden centers, and readily available in many garden catalogs. Generally, I prefer to make my purchases from up-scale sources rather than from any of the several giant mail-order houses with flashy mailings, splashy contests and prizes, and who ship bargain-priced little poly bags of "collections" of tiny-spindly-twiglets that stand very little chance of surviving the first growing season. You know who I mean. 

On the Internet, go to one of the major search engines (like [my preference],,,, and type in "Clivia". You'll find hundreds of sources. Choose carefully and make sure a replacement guarantee is in place before you type in your credit card number. My recommendation: Shop locally if at all possible!

What about seeds?

I received this email in January, 2006 with the following question: 

"I bought a clivia  last February that bloomed for a while after. Then the stem developed some berries that were at first green, then red. Some of the berries were like pods and turned brown.  Are these seeds?  Are they plantable? L."

Yes, they are.... and yes, you can. When they are loose enough to drop off in your hand when touched or lightly tugged, clean them up and plant them in any standard seed-starting mix (your local garden center or farm-'n-garden), covering about a 1/4", keep moist, and maintain temperature at about 70 to 75 F (+/-).  They'll germinate erratically within a few weeks. Then keep them under bright lights (for the usual 8-hour days) at room temperature. When they have 2 or 3 recognizable-as-true-leaves, pot them into 2-1/4".  When you see roots coming out of the bottom (probably in a year or so), up-pot to 4", then eventually to 6"...and wait 5 or 6 years for your first flowers.   Good Luck!........and don't let your patience wane.    Fred. 

For answers to many other Clivia questions, go to the Houseplant FAQ.

An "ugly" name?

I received this email in March, 2007 relating to a racial slur hidden in Clivia's common name:

"I Googled clivia miniata and discovered that its common name "kaffir lily" contains a terrible ethnic slur. In South Africa, the word "kaffir" has about the same meanness and power as the word "n......" [I've chosen not to print the word this person spelled out in his or her email.] "I'm guessing most gardeners outside of South Africa don't know that the meaning of this lovely plant's common name is so ugly. I didn't know until recently, but now that I do I'm bringing this to the attention of nurseries that still use it on their plant labels, and websites too, like this." [He/she chose not to include a name.]

Ordinarily, when someone emails a comment but either neglects or declines to sign their name, I discount it and it gets dropped into the "deleted" file. This time, however, I responded, suggesting that, rather than direct his concern and opinion toward nurserypersons and garden writers, he/she communicate with the Royal Horticultural Society (  or by email:, and the horticultural taxonomy authority:  or by email: They're about the only ones who can do anything at all about changing the name of any plant.


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