A spherical cluster packed with as many as 200 individual flowers atop an upright, leafless stem account for the perennial Scadoxus multiflorus' common name of fireball lily. This striking South African native belongs to the same plant family as amaryllis lilies, popular winter holiday gifts in the Northern Hemisphere. Even when not in flower, fireball lily produces a long-lasting foliage display.
The blood lily (Scadoxus multiflorus) species grows in several habitats from open grasslands and shady riverbanks to woodland edges and savanna and mountain forests. It tolerates all but the driest conditions. Fireball lily, as a blood lily subspecies, thrives across South Africa's Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces into Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique.
Fireball lily and the other eight plants comprising the Scadoxus plant genus once belonged to the Haemanthus -- translated as "blood flower" -- genus. Nineteenth-century botanist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque reclassified the plants into the new genus based on his observations about some slight variations. The fireball lily's subspecies name katharinae comes from Lady Katharine Saunders, a British plant collector and botanical artist. She emigrated to South Africa at the age of 30 in 1854.
Fireball lily bulbs produce as many as nine erect leaves each year. The leaves join at the base to form a false stem as much as 1 inch thick. This stem typically has purple mottling. The lily's leaves themselves are green, with wavy edges and noticeable midribs. They surround the false stem in a symmetrical fashion. Leaves on mature plants can be more than 2 feet long with a nearly 4-foot spread.
Fireball lily blooms from one to two weeks in late summer to early fall. Its spherical flower cluster crowns a leafless stalk rising from the basal foliage. Plants in full flower may stand nearly 4 feet high. Star-shaped blossoms pack individual clusters measuring up to 10 inches across. The flowers' brilliant orange-red petals and long, yellow-anthered stamens combine to create the lily's distinctive fireball appearance. Green berries following the blooms ripen to bright red between late winter and spring, persisting as long as two months.
Fireball lilies thrive in partial to full shade. Evergreen in their native habitats, they are suitable outdoor plants in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and higher, where winter temperatures remain above freezing. In colder regions, they're eye-catching container and indoor plants. The lilies require well-drained soil with generous amounts of compost or leaf mold. Periodic feeding with a liquid fertilizer keeps them at their best. Actively growing fireball lilies need consistently moist -- never saturated -- soil. Good drainage is essential to get these lilies through the winter where rains are heavy.