Natal Lily – A Gift Plant for the Gardener in Your Life

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Natal Lily – A Gift Plant for the Gardener in Your Life
Sarah Browning, Nebraska Extension Educator
Natal Lily – A Gift Plant for the Gardener in Your Life
Clivia is grown for its showy flowers, which are similar to small versions of amaryllis blossoms.

Need an idea for a gardener on your Christmas list? Consider native lily or bush lily, Clivia miniata; an unusual plant popular as a holiday gift plant. It can be grown year-round as a houseplant or kept indoors during winter and placed outside in summer.

Close-up of natal lily flowers. A little history…
Pronounced 'clive-ia', this plant is a member of the Amaryllis family and is a native of South Africa. They were brought to England in 1854, where the plant was named to honor Lady Charlotte Clive, Duchess of Northumberland.

The foliage resembles that of common amaryllis, with long, strap-shaped leaves. The foliage is thick and glossy, and is evergreen in its native region. The leaves of clivia are two-ranked; they arise from the soil directly opposite one another in an alternating sequence. Because they arch directly over one another, a mature clivia plant develops a symmetrical, flattened shape.

Clivia is grown for its showy flowers, which are small versions of amaryllis blossoms, clustered atop a thick, fleshy stalk. Clivia miniata has dark scarlet-orange flowers with a yellow throat. (Miniata comes from the Latin minium, "red oxide of lead," which describes the deep orangey color of the flowers.)

A rare yellow-flowered form of clivia became the plant world's Holy Grail in the mid 1990s. It was originally discovered in 1888 in the forests of Zululand, a province of South Africa. In 1994, White Flower Farms of Litchfield, CN, a popular mail order nursery, offered 36 plants of the yellow clivia cultivar 'Sir John Thouron' for $950.00 each! All 36 plants were sold. Purchasers included a movie star, a fashion designer, and several clivia collectors. One plant was flown to its new home in California by private jet. Newer cultivars with yellow flowers are now available, including ‘Good Hope’ and ‘Golden Dragon’ and are considerably less expensive. Breeding and selection continues, there is even a cultivar with variegated leaves now.

Image of yellow-flowered natal lily. Growing Clivia
Clivia are relatively easy to grow; they require bright light and average room temperatures. A bright north facing window with no direct sun, or an east or west window partially shaded by a curtain, overhang or tree is ideal.

Plants prefer drier soil and overwatering may cause root rot. While growing the plant indoors, only water when necessary and do not mist the leaves. Soak the soil thoroughly with each watering, applying water until it runs out the bottom drain holes. Let the soil become dry before watering again. After the plant has bloomed, usually April through August, fertilize monthly with a half-strength solution of a water soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer solution. Stop fertilizing in mid-September.

After danger of frost is past, the plant can be placed outdoors in a shaded location.

Move the plant back indoors in fall. In winter, move the plant to a cool room and let the soil become almost dry to initiate the resting period. During this 6-8 week rest period, allow the plants to dry out and keep them at 50-55° F. Withhold water unless the plant begins to wilt, then apply 1-2 cups of water. When a flower stalk begins to emerge in late winter, increase watering and move the plant to a warmer area.

These plants flower best when they are potbound, so repot only when roots can be seen at the surface of the soil, usually about every three years. Use an all-purpose potting soil and move the plant to a pot just one size larger. Because these are heavy plants, use clay pots instead of lighter plastic ones, which might tip over.

Plants may be available from your local nursery, although since this plant is uncommon it's unlikely. They are more commonly purchased through mail order nurseries like White Flower Farm or Logee's.

Reference to commercial companies is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by Nebraska Extension is implied. Mention does not imply approval or constitute endorsement by Nebraska Extension. Nor does it imply discrimination against other similar companies or products.

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Holiday Plant Care

Nebraska Extension Educator Terri James talks about holiday plant selections and how to care for them.

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