Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
If you're looking for a unique flowering houseplant, consider Clivia. Clivia are native to South Africa. They are naturally found on south-facing slopes, usually under trees.
English naturalist William J. Burchell is credited with making the first scientific collection of Clivia nobilis in 1815. Through the rest of the 1800's, three more Clivia species were discovered. In 2002, a fifth Clivia species was identified.
Botanically, Clivia are related to Amaryllis, a bulb many Americans are used to cultivating indoors. But there are many differences in cultivating Clivia.
For one, they are considered to be "semi-epiphitic" meaning they grow in the thin layer of leaf litter beneath trees. Their roots are thick and sponge-like, able to store nutrients and water to sustain them through the dry season of their native South Africa. The roots require exposure to the air to survive. Planting Clivia in soil will cause the roots to rot. The preferred planting media is very coarse and well-drained, much like what many orchids are typically potted with indoors.
Since Clivia are native to the forest floor, they need filtered bright light rather than direct sun to avoid scorching. They prefer temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Farenheit, making them a good houseplant choice. A rest period of cool temperatures between 34 and 55 degrees Farenheit combined with dry conditions for 25 to 30 days will initiate flowering. Without a rest period, Clivia will continue to grow, but fail to flower.
Many Clivia enthusiasts enjoy breeding their plants. Plants produce hundreds of seeds that germinate easily. Many different hybrids have been created over the years. Clivia enthusiasts have paid thousands of dollars for rare and unusual flower and foliage types.
Plants with variegated foliage have been produced by breeding efforts in Japan. Breeding has also revealed a wide array of bright red and orange flower colors, as well as pastel shades. A highly sought after flower color is yellow, which is somewhat rare among Clivia. Whatever the color, Clivia are certainly a unique addition to anyone's flowering plant collection.