Clivia, a striking tuberous-rooted evergreen herbaceous plant in the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae), was for many years seen by the majority of gardeners and growers of houseplants as too exotic or troublesome to care for. However, in recent years gardeners have found it to be quite undemanding and very easy to grow, either indoors or outdoors.
Originally, Clivia hails from Natal, South Africa, where it grows naturally in shady, moist areas. It is considered a sturdy shade plant and as such will not tolerate direct hot sun. In colder areas, Clivia will safely tolerate outside temperatures to 30-35 degrees.
The somewhat unusual name of this plant (which many people are unsure of pronouncing correctly) was bestowed on it by a man named John Lindley during the mid-1800s. Lady Clive was the Duchess of Northumberland then, and Lindley named the plant in her honor. Therefore, the correct pronunciation is with a long "i" (Cli-via) -- just for the record. Interestingly, Clivia is also known as a "kaffer lily" in certain areas. Should you decide to go shopping for this plant, watch for either of these names. And just to be sure, confirm its true identity with a reliable nurseryman.
While there are many different species, Clivia miniata is the most common species grown as a cultivar in the United States. Its dark green leaves are broad and strap-like and grow in an arching fashion up to two feet long and three to four inches wide. Brilliant clusters of orange-red funnel-shaped blossoms appear in clusters on strong stems arising from the center of the dense leaf clumps. There are often between 10 to 20 of these large lily-like flowers blooming on each umbel during their blooming season.
Typically, their blooming period is from mid-winter through early spring, with most blooming from March to April. After their blooms are spent, ornamental red berries often appear which will provide you with an additional cheerful display.
Clivia miniata has proven to be an excellent choice as a versatile indoor/outdoor container plant. It can be successfully grown indoors in areas having very cold winters, then doesn't mind being moved outdoors to a shaded area on your deck or patio during summer months. This easy-to- care-for plant also truly loves being rootbound which is a big plus for container gardeners, as you don't have to worry about repotting it very often.
Clivia plants look stunning when planted in groups of four or five. However, like their close relatives, the Amaryllis, they also look elegant and eye-catching when planted as single specimens. The choice is entirely yours, and will depend somewhat on how many you wish to grow, how much space you have available for containers, and where you plan to place them. If you live in a cold winter area, be sure to plan ahead so you will have room for all of them to be situated in a bright, sunny area in your home until spring.
When planting Clivia in containers, it is recommended that you purchase plants at least two to four years old from a reliable nursery or garden center. Look for healthy plants having dark green leaves with no browning or wilting, and also choose those that appear rootbound. Be sure to check for noxious pests that might be hibernating under the leaves or in the pot.
Choosing a clay pot in which to plant your Clivia is a good option, as clay pots are very durable and will serve your plant well until it needs to be transplanted. Be sure to place a drip tray under your pot, especially if you live in a cold climate and will be moving your Clivia indoors in the wintertime. If you wish to plant a group of Clivia all in one container, consider an attractive tub shaped container. Or, consider planting four or five Clivia in separate pots of differing shapes and sizes to arrange or rearrange to your liking. The options you have are many -- so just let your creative juices take over!
Caring for your Clivia
As was mentioned earlier, the beautiful Clivia is not demanding. After it has finished blooming in the spring, it goes into a time of resting when it requires little water and no feeding. After you move it outdoors for the summer in early to late spring, it begins to grow again and will require water more frequently and regularly. Apply a balanced fertilizer high in phosphate during its growing season. Watch for mealybugs while your plant is outdoors, as they do like Clivias!
As autumn arrives, Clivias again go into a resting period, requiring minimum water and no fertilizer. Following this second resting stage, and as winter approaches, your Clivia will once more enter its flowering stage. When you see the flower stems appear, it's time to increase watering and apply light fertilizer.
Then, almost miraculously -- you will again see a riot of those brilliant orange-red blossoms appear, ever so silently but ever so beautifully!