Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
If you are looking for an unusual plant for your favorite gardener this holiday season, consider the Clivia. The first time I saw one I had no idea what it was.
Clivia is a genus of flowering plants native to South Africa. There are six known species. Clivia miniata is the most widely cultivated species, along with various hybrids.
A common name for Clivia is Bush Lily, but these plants are not members of the lily family. They are members of the amaryllis family. The relationship is obvious at first glance.
Like the amaryllis, Clivia have very wide strap-like leaves, and flowers borne in clusters on a stalk held above the foliage. The flowers look somewhat like amaryllis or lily blooms, only smaller. The most common color of Clivia is orange, although thanks to plant breeding efforts, colors of peach, nearly white, apricot, red and yellow are available.
Clivia were first described by English naturalist William J. Burchell in 1813 while he was exploring parts of South Africa. The genus Clivia wasn't named until 1828 by another Englishman, John Lindley. He named the species Clivia nobilis after plant collector Lady Charlotte Florentia Clive, Baroness of Northumberland.
For many years, Clivia were plants owned only by the very rich, as they were extremely expensive. The first plants offered via mail order companies fetched nearly a thousand dollars apiece! A big reason for this is that Clivia are difficult to propagate, and can be slow-growing. It is common to propagate Clivia from seed, but it will take three to five years before that plant will flower. Plants propagated from offshoots will flower sooner, but still will take at least a year or two to reach flowering size. Plants that are blooming size are typically expensive because of all the time invested in growing them.
Thankfully, Clivia plants have come down in price for the average houseplant lover. Of course, if you are a collector, there are lots of opportunities out there to pay big bucks for a Clivia plant. I've even seen price quotes for seed of highly desirable flower colors over $1000.
When purchasing Clivia plants, realize that the price increases dramatically with plant size. But the bigger the plant, the more likely it is to produce flowers right away. One Clivia that caught my eye in a catalog recently was the cultivar 'Victorian Peach'. It has gorgeous yellow-peach flowers edged in a darker peach. What also caught my eye was the price: $400!!
Closer inspection revealed the reason for the high price: it is a new cultivar, and is blooming size (10" pot). I saw the same cultivar in a 5" pot for $45, but according to the description it is one to two years from flowering. Ultimately, it all depends on how patient you are-- you will pay a lot less for a smaller plant, but you will have to wait for a year or more to see flowers.
I am not all that patient, but I have been labeled "frugal" by my husband. I would have a guilty conscience if I bought a $45 Clivia. My first Clivia cost $10 and is in a 2.5" pot. It has a lot of growing to do before it will flower.
Clivias naturally flower in late February or March after a cool dry rest period of 12-14 weeks. With that in mind, I was shocked to find Clivias for sale at a garden center this summer, being advertised as great tropicals for the outdoor landscape. This made absolutely no sense to me, since Clivias flower in about March, not exactly the time we recommend moving tropical plants outdoors in central Illinois!
I spotted these plants in August-- actually, I spotted the 75% off sign above them first. They were originally priced at $30, and I got a large, mature, blooming size plant in an 8" pot for only $7.50. Now if I can get it to flower, it will be one of my personal top ten best plant bargains.
Clivias will continue to grow and produce leaves rather than flowers unless they get a cool dry rest period where water is withheld, and temperatures range from 50-65˚F. They also bloom better if they are somewhat rootbound in their pot. The rest period should start in late October or early November and last through at least the end of January or even well into February. Plants should then be moved indoors and watering should gradually be resumed. Within a month or so flower buds should appear.
All the articles I've read promise that Clivias are pretty indestructible and rebloom easily if given this required rest period. I'll decide whether I agree with this statement in a few months if my Clivia flowers.
Clivia have few problems in the home, except for the occasional mealybug. Watering can be touchy with Clivia, but erring on the dry side is preferable. They will develop root rot if kept too wet. They prefer bright indirect light indoors, and shade if moved outdoors in the summer.
You may find Clivias for sale during this holiday season or soon after that are in full bloom. Although they naturally bloom in and around March, Clivias may be artificially induced to bloom earlier by controlling their environment in a greenhouse. Subsequent years you would expect the plant to flower at its natural time in the early spring.