Haemanthus katharinae: Blood Lily Plant

Bulbs include among their number some of the loveliest flowering plants for room decoration and they are practically no trouble to grow. Blood lily is one of the favouries, and rightly so.

Some 60 species of Haemanthus are found in tropical Africa, many of them is South Africa. Most are large bulbs which send up several thin leathery leaves. The flowers, though fairly small, are arranged in a head that is quite large (15 to 20 cm [6 to 8 in] in diameter).

The most widely cultivated species, H. albiflos, has less decorative flowers. The leaves, only 2 or 4, are fleshy, about 20 cm (8 in) long and evergreen. This is the commonest succulent grown in households; it tolerates practically any kind of treatment. The inflorescence is rather insignificant, the flowers white. Much prettier is the variety pubescens with leaves that are hairy on the upper surface and with pink flowers.

Most admired, however, are the species with vivid red flowers, such as H. Katharinae, and which is native to Natal. The bulb is about 7 cm (2-3/4 in) across and the stalked leaves up to 30 cm (1 ft) long. The flower stem is thickly spotted brown at the base and terminated by a cluster of flowers arranged in a seeming umbel nearly 25 cm (10 in) across. These are generally produced in full summer.

Crossing with H. puniceus in 1900 yielded the spectacular hybrid ‘Konig Albert’, which has slightly bigger and more vividly coloured flowers and is very large — it is usually sold in shops already in bloom.

Of the species with leathery leaves and red flowers the ones most often found in cultivation are H. cinnabarinus, H. lindenii, H. magnificus, H. multifloras, H. natalensis, and the aforementioned H. puniceus. Very similar also is the related genus Buphane from the edge of the Kalahari desert plateau which provides the bushmen with the poison (obtained from the bulb) which they use to tip their arrows.

The species is never entirely leafless and that is why it should be wintered at only a slightly lower temperature and with limited watering. It should be placed in a well-lit window but not in full sun. It is rarely repotted, and if so then into a nourishing compost such as John Innes potting compost No. 1. It is readily propagated by seed as well as by offsets of the bulb.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Featured Articles, House Plants | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Haemanthus katharinae: Blood Lily Plant

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